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Slightly more than half the material in this book first appeared 
in Volume XXVIII, Numbers 3-4, of Partisan Review. 
© 1961 Partisan Review 

Revised text and additional material in English translation © 1962 
Patricia Blake and Max Hayward 

Published by Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, Inc., 
New York, New York 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-11083 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book 
or portions thereof in any form. 

Manufactured in the U.S.A. 

All footnotes are by the editors. 


Introduction by Max Hayward, vii 


Without Love, 3 


On Literature, Revolution, and Entropy, 12 


Form and Material in Art, 20 


Soviet Russia, 29 


Reminiscences of Babel, 33 


The Journey, 52 


The Making of Asper, 62 




M.Ts., 71 


Mahogany, 74 


Before Sunrise, 108 


Fireman Prokhorchuk or The Story of a Story, 132 


The Tale of the Three Master Craftsmen, 137 

1941, 156 


The Tramp, 158 


Untrodden Path, 185 


The Outsider, 188 


Three, Seven, Ace, 205 


People, Years, and Life, 236 


BabiYar, 260 


This Is Moscow Speaking, 262 

References to Original Russian Sources, 307 


INTRODUCTION by Max Hayward 

Soviet Literature 1917— 1962 

This miscellany of Soviet writing covers a period of forty- 
four years, beginning with an early prose fragment by Boris 
Pasternak written in 1918 and ending with Evtushenko's 
"Babi Yar" and a short story, not so far published in the 
Soviet Union, "This Is Moscow Speaking," written by a 
Russian author under the pseudonym Nikolai Arzak. 

Most of the voices represented here are dissonant, not in 
any political sense, but in that they do not speak in that trite 
and monotonous accent which, owing to the long and bitter 
years of Stalin's dictatorship, is still regarded by many people 
in the West as the sole voice of Soviet literature. The editors 
have given pride of place to writers who were murdered, 
hounded into silence, or otherwise persecuted (e.g. Babel, 
Pilnyak, and Pasternak) and to some others (e.g. Ehrenburg 
and Paustovsky) who despite their overtly "conformist" past 
have attempted, in the years since Stalin, to restore the liter- 
ary and human values all but destroyed by him. The physical 


limits imposed on an anthology of this sort and, in some cases, 
the difficulty of finding hitherto untranslated pieces of suit- 
able length, made it impossible to include specimens of the 
work of many writers such as Yuri Olesha, Leonid Leonov, 
Konstantin Fedin, and Alexander Tvardovsky, so that the 
picture which emerges is inevitably very incomplete, but 
the editors hope they may have succeeded in their principal 
aim of showing that the Soviet period has been by no means 
as barren in literary achievement as is often supposed. Apart 
from years of utter sterility — notably the years 1947 to 1953 — 
there has been a fairly steady output of work, some of which 
is not unworthy of the great tradition from which it ulti- 
mately springs. 

Needless to say, much Soviet writing can only be appre- 
ciated against the background in which it was produced, and 
the purpose of this introduction is to sketch the changing 
climate in which Soviet writers have lived and worked. 

The Russian intelligentsia, not least the writers, were 
divided in their attitude to the Bolshevik Revolution of 
October 1917. Many, like Ivan Bunin, Leonid Andreyev, 
Alexander Kuprin, Boris Zaitsev, Dmitri Merezhkovsky, and 
others, could not reconcile themselves to Lenin's usurpation 
of power and emigrated at the earliest possible opportunity. 
Others like Ilya Ehrenburg, Alexei Tolstoy, and Maxim 
Gorky were more ambivalent in their attitude. At first skepti- 
cal of the new regime, they made their peace with it — for 
different reasons — and loyally served it, once they had con- 
vinced themselves that it was there to stay. It is interesting 
to note that it was the very few Marxist writers, such as 
Evgeni Zamyatin and Maxim Gorky, who were at the time 
the most implacably hostile to Lenin's coup d'etat. Like Rosa 
Luxemburg, Gorky prophesied that the Bolshevik seizure of 
power would inevitably lead to the dictatorship of one man, 
and he violently denounced Lenin for his arrogance and 
"seigneurial" contempt for the Russian people. Zamyatin, as 
we can see from his article on "Literature, Revolution, and 
Entropy," clearly foresaw all the dangers of the Bolshevik 


monopoly of power for the free development of literature 
and the arts. Unlike Gorky, who had a fatal weakness for 
successful strongmen — one is reminded of G. B. Shaw — 
Zamyatin remained irreconcilably hostile and managed to 
emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1931 — not long after 
Gorky finally returned to Moscow to become Stalin's con- 
fidant and advisor in literary matters. In the latter capacity 
Gorky was responsible for the formulation of the doctrine of 
"socialist realism." 

There was a third category of writers, notably Alexander 
Blok, Andrei Bely, and Sergei Esenin, who greeted the Octo- 
ber Revolution with unbridled enthusiasm as the secular 
consummation of a mystic vision. Politically naive, they saw 
in the grand chambardement of October the beginning of a 
millennial "revolution of the spirit" which would somehow, 
out of the chaos, the squalor, and the bloodshed, produce a 
spiritual transfiguration of mankind ( "Transfiguration" is the 
title of one of Esenin's poems in 1917) and the realization of 
ancient dreams. By a strange irony, therefore, Soviet litera- 
ture had its beginnings in the religious ecstasy of a small 
group of poets who were the very antithesis of the cold- 
blooded engineers of October. An even greater paradox is 
that Blok, the ethereal, otherworldly symbolist, and Bely, 
the even more otherworldly esotericist (he was the leading 
Russian disciple of Rudolf Steiner), greeted the Revolution 
with poems steeped in Christian imagery. In Blok's "Twelve" 
(1918), Jesus Christ "in a white crown" leads the triumphal 
march of the Red Guards, and in Bely's "Christ Is Risen" 
( 1918 ) , Russia's ordeal by revolution is compared to Calvary: 
the martyrdom of the Cross will be followed by Resurrection. 
Esenin, too, used religious symbols to convey his vision of the 
Revolution as the dawn of a golden age for the Russian 
peasants. In his poem "Inonia" (1918), dedicated to the 
prophet Jeremiah, he violently rejected Christ, in the grand 
tradition of Russian atheism, in favor of Man, the omnipotent 
Demiurge: "I shall fear neither death / Nor javelins, nor hail 
of darts, / Thus speaks according to the Bible, the prophet 


Esenin, Sergei. / My hour is at hand, I fear not the scourge. / 
I spit out of my mouth the Host, the body of Christ. / I will 
not accept salvation through his torment and the Cross: / 
I know another teaching which pierces the eternal stars. / I 
behold another Coming / In which death doesn't dance on 
truth. . . r 

This kind of inverted religious language was also charac- 
teristic of Mayakovsky's work at the time of the Revolution. 
Already before it, in "Cloud in Trousers" ( 1915), he had pro- 
claimed himself the John the Baptist of the Revolution: "at 
the head of hungry hordes, / the year 1916 cometh / in the 
thorny crown of revolutions. / In your midst, his precursor, 
I am where pain is — everywhere; / on each drop of the tear- 
flow / I have nailed myself on the cross. . . ." His first major 
work in honor of the Revolution was a mock mystery play 
(Mystery Bouffe, 1918) which is a brilliant farcical re-enact- 
ment of the story of the Flood, with God, Methuselah, Beel- 
zebub, and Lloyd George playing minor roles. Mayakovsky's 
transposition of the revolutionary drama into biblical lan- 
guage was, of course, utterly lighthearted and frivolous 
compared with Esenin's anguished blasphemy, but the un- 
derlying emotion was much the same and he was thought of 
by communist critics as a Utopian visionary rather than as a 
"proletarian" poet. As late as 1934 he could be described by 
one such critic as "a peculiar kind of Utopian socialist, a 
spokesman of that petty-bourgeois humanistic intelligentsia 
whose ideological development eventually led to their ac- 
ceptance of the October Revolution." 1 Of Mystery Bouffe 
the same writer said that it still contains "strong echoes of the 
problems which exercised Mayakovsky in the prerevolu- 
tionary period: abstract man and the socialist paradise." 
Despite all his flamboyant self -identification with the cause, 
it was only Stalin's offhanded canonization of him in 1935 
which led to the creation of "proletarian" credentials for 
him and his enthronement as the great tribune and drum- 

1 N. Plisko, Literaturnaya Entsiklopedia. 


beater of the Revolution. This he certainly was in his own 
estimation, but he understood the true nature of the Revolu- 
tion scarcely better than Blok or Esenin. The result was 
tragedy for all three of them and their last days, in the words 
of Pushkin's poem, were "without divinity, without inspira- 
tion, without tears, without life, and without love." Blok 
was the first to realize his mistake. When he died in 1921 he 
was already deaf to the "music of the Revolution" which 
only three years earlier had inspired him to write the first 
and greatest poem of the Soviet era. The unspeakable agony 
of his disillusionment is conveyed by Zoshchenko's portrait 
of him in "Before Sunrise." 

For Esenin, who committed suicide in 1925, the years of 
disabusement were more productive. Unlike Blok he was 
able to rescue something from the wreck of his dreams and 
transmute his disenchantment into poetry, which perhaps 
better than anything else expresses the tragic alienation of 
the Russian intelligentsia in the twenties. Quickly under- 
standing that October would not, as he fondly imagined, 
usher in a peasant paradise of which he would be the prophet, 
he reconciled himself with gentle submissiveness to the role 
of a stranger in his own land. He was not against the new 
way of things, but he could not be a part of it. In a poem 
written in 1920, he drew a picture of a poor little foal 
pathetically trying to race a steam engine; the image well 
expressed his belated recognition that October meant the 
advent of a harsh and ruthless machine age which would 
have no use for his "gentle songs." In "Soviet Russia," writ- 
ten shortly before his death, he accepts, in a mood of trusting 
patriotism, all that has happened in the country and offers 
up his soul to October and May. He could no more compete 
with the crude "proletarian" versifier Demyan Bedny than 
the poor foal could catch up with the locomotive, but in a 
pitiful gesture of defiance he refused to abandon his "beloved 
lyre" to the Revolution. He did not live to see the day when 
it would inevitably have been wrenched from his grasp. 

The case of Mayakovsky is the most intriguing of all. The 


self-appointed poet laureate of the Revolution, only too 
anxious to abandon not only himself but his lyre to the 
service of the Party ("I want the Gosplan to sweat / in 
debate, / assigning me / goals a year ahead. / I want / a 
commissar / with a decree / to lean over the thought of the 
age"), he seemed, on the surface, to be more in tune with 
the new age than any of his contemporaries. 

In fact, however, he was one of those hypersensitive and 
introspective intellectuals for whom only total involvement 
in the turmoil and chaos of universal upheaval can offer any 
solution to hopeless inner agony. The Revolution, or rather 
his image of it, supplied a personal need which had nothing 
to do with his overt political convictions. When the image 
began to fade and when he could no longer hide the fact 
from himself, he put a bullet through his heart. 

Boris Pasternak, the fourth great poet of the Soviet era 
and the only one to survive its worst rigors, was not spell- 
bound by the Revolution. Judging from the evidence of Dr. 
Zhivago, he may have felt a momentary thrill of admiration at 
its "splendid surgery," but we may surmise that it was as 
short-lived as with the hero of his novel. Yet perhaps he 
understood the revolutionary temperament better than most 
of his contemporaries. The portrait of Antipov-Strelnikov in 
Dr. Zhivago is full of sympathetic insight into the character 
of a man who sacrifices life and love to an impersonal cause. 
The fragment "Without Love" shows that Pasternak was pre- 
occupied with this problem as early as 1918. The title, which 
in Russian is an invented word ( bezlyubye, meaning roughly 
"lovelessness" ) , evidently refers to the suppression of all 
personal feeling in the name of the Revolution, about which 
the young social-revolutionary conspirator Kovalevsky is 
thinking as he travels with his easygoing friend Goltsev to 
some industrial town in the Urals. The contrast between 
Goltsev and Kovalevsky foreshadows the relationship be- 
tween Yuri Zhivago and Antipov-Strelnikov in the novel 
written some forty years later. While Goltsev is thinking of 
the woman he loves ( who, like Lara in the novel, goes to the 


front as a nurse), Kovalevsky is entirely absorbed in his 
thoughts about the Revolution — thoughts which "meant 
more to him than his fur coat and his belongings, more than 
his wife and child, more than his own life and more than 
other people's lives. . . ." There is an obvious symbolism 
in the fact that, while dreaming his dreams of revolution, 
Kovalevsky imagines that his companion is asleep and that 
he himself is awake. In reality it is the other way round: it is 
Goltsev, with his more down-to-earth thoughts, who is awake. 
"Without Love" hence already contains in embryo one of the 
central themes of Dr. Zhivago, namely the trancelike state of 
those men who, like Kovalevsky and Antipov, attempt to 
apply "final" solutions to all the problems of humanity and 
who eventually wake up to the illusoriness of their efforts. 
In the first decade after the Revolution it was possible for 
such moods as these to be expressed with more or less free- 
dom. True, there was a fairly tight censorship, known as 
Glavlit, but its functions were mainly negative, i.e., to prevent 
the appearance in print of openly "counterrevolutionary" 
work. The Soviet prose of the period was, on the whole, re- 
markably objective in portraying the realities of the Revolu- 
tion, the Civil War, and the period of N.E.P. The brutal 
naturalism of Isaac Babel ( represented in this book by "The 
Journey") was accepted almost without criticism; Leonid 
Leonov was able to show, in The Badgers (1925), the 
hostility of the peasant masses to marauding Bolshevik req- 
uisitioned from the towns, and in The Thief (1927), the 
demoralization during N.E.P. of an idealistic communist who 
had fought in the Civil War; Sholokhov described in the first 
two volumes of And Quiet Flows the Don ( 1928 ) , with an 
impartiality quite impermissible by later standards, the com- 
plicated clash of loyalties — by no means explicable only 
in terms of class warfare — which the Revolution produced 
among simple people. Almost all the human problems which 
arose in the aftermath of the great upheaval — the conflict 
between town and country, the collapse of Utopian illusions, 
the inner doubts of the intellectuals, the material hardships 


of the population as a whole — all these and many other prob- 
lems were presented truthfully, if not always sympathetically, 
in early Soviet literature. Most of the best writers of the 
period belonged to the category dubbed by Trotsky as the 
"fellow travelers. " For the most part intellectuals by origin, 
they varied considerably in the degree of their loyalty to the 
new regime, but like "bourgeois specialists" in other fields, 
they were endowed with special skills which made them in- 
dispensable to it and they were, therefore, at first protected 
from excessive interference by the so-called "proletarian" 
writers. The latter were as vociferous as they were untal- 
ented, but their attempts to force the "fellow travelers" into 
absolute conformity were given little official encouragement 
until 1929. Until this year general Party supervision of 
literary and artistic affairs had been the responsibility of 
Anatoli Lunacharsky, one of the most cultivated of the Old 
Bolsheviks and himself a writer of standing, who exercised 
great tact in his handling of cultural problems. Under his 
aegis there was an uneasy coexistence between the "fellow 
travelers," grouped mainly in the All-Russian Union of 
Writers, and the "proletarians" of the Association of Pro- 
letarian Writers (RAPP). In another part of the memoirs 
excerpted in this book, Ilya Ehrenburg writes of Lunachar- 

In their reminiscences of him people have spoken about his 
"enormous erudition" and his "many-sided culture/' I was struck 
by something different: he was not a poet, he was absorbed in 
his political activities, but he had an extraordinary love for art 
and he always seemed to be tuned in to those elusive waves to 
which many others are deaf. On the rare occasions when we met 
we would argue. His views were alien to me. But he was very 
far from any desire to impose them on other people. The October 
Revolution put him in command of the People's Commissariat of 
Enlightenment and there is no denying that he was a good shep- 
herd. "I have said dozens of times" — [wrote Lunacharsky] — "that 
the Commissariat of Enlightenment must be impartial in its atti- 
tude toward the various trends of artistic life. As regards ques- 
tions of artistic form, the tastes of the People's Commissar and 


other persons in authority should not be taken into account. All 
individual artists and all groups of artists should be allowed to 
develop freely. No one trend, by virtue of its traditional renown 
or its fashionable success, should be allowed to oust another." It 
is a pity that various people who have been in charge of art, or 
who have been interested in it, have rarely remembered these 
wise words. 2 

The end of Lunacharsky's relatively mild stewardship 
spelled the end of freedom for literature in Russia and the 
beginning of an enforced state of "entropy" which went on 
for the next twenty-two years. The year 1929 was in general 
the "year of the great turning point," as Stalin aptly described 
it, and with the final defeat of all political opposition, whose 
fate was sealed by the capitulation of Bukharin at the Six- 
teenth Party Conference, the stage was set for the "revolution 
from above" which meant the violent transformation of all 
social and cultural life. In retrospect the N.E.P. period now 
seemed a golden age of liberalism and laissez faire. Side by 
side with the collectivization of the peasants went the so- 
called "bolshevization" of literature and the arts. This was 
done by encouraging RAPP to assert the hegemony of the 
"proletariat" in literature, that is, to allow them to do what 
Lunacharsky had so far managed to prevent. The leadership 
of RAPP, under its chairman, Leopold Averbakh, consisted 
of genuine fanatics who no doubt sincerely believed that 
only the "proletariat" could create an art that was in harmony 
with the new way of life and that hence "class warfare" must 
be fostered in cultural life just as was now being done in the 
countryside: the "fellow-traveling" goats must be separated 
from the "proletarian" sheep. To be a "proletarian" writer 
did not mean that one was necessarily a worker or a peasant 
by origin — indeed many of the "proletarian" writers were 
intellectuals — but one had to identify oneself body and soul 
with their supposed cause, and submit unquestioningly 
to their self-appointed and self-perpetuating "avant-garde," 

2 Novy Mir, September 1960. 


the Party. There was at this period a genuine mystique of 
communion with the "proletariat," and some intellectuals 
were indeed attracted by this possibility of a quasi-religious 
sublimation of personality. Like all religious processes it 
seems to offer a way of shedding the awful burden of in- 
dividual responsibility, and RAPP was successfully able to 
exploit this appeal in a number of cases. But, like all fanatical 
proselytizers, they were too impatient to rest content with 
persuasion and in August 1929 they forced a showdown with 
the "fellow-traveling" writers. This was the first application 
to Soviet cultural life of the technique of the campaign 
against certain chosen scapegoats with the object of terror- 
izing a whole group into submission. The victims on this 
occasion were Boris Pilnyak, who was chairman of the All- 
Russian Union of Writers, and Evgeni Zamyatin, who 
headed the Leningrad branch of the Union. By later stand- 
ards the campaign was clumsily handled and, as an attempt 
to compromise Pilnyak and Zamyatin morally, it was a failure. 
The original charge against them was that both had deliber- 
ately arranged for the publication abroad of works which 
had not been passed by the Soviet censorship: Pilnyak's 
fragment Mahogany, part of which is reproduced in this 
book, and Zamyatin's anti-utopian satire We. Both writers 
were able to demonstrate beyond any doubt that they were 
blameless on this score. In fact Zamyatin had done his best to 
prevent the publication of We abroad and the manuscript 
of Pilnyak's Mahogany had been sent to a Russian pub- 
lisher in Berlin in accordance with what was then a legal 
procedure whereby Soviet writers obtained protection under 
the international copyright laws to which the Soviet Union 
was not a party. By arranging for the simultaneous publica- 
tion of the original in Moscow and Berlin, it was possible 
for the author to retain control over translation and other 
rights abroad. Gorky, Sholokhov, Konstantin Fedin, and 
other Soviet writers regularly used this procedure. The Berlin 
firm Petropolis which published Pilnyak's Mahogany existed 
only to perform this service for Soviet writers. Such transac- 


tions went through Soviet lawyers and the official society for 
relations with foreign countries, VOKS. What happened in 
Pilnyak's case, however, was that Petropolis jumped the gun 
and published his manuscript prematurely, without waiting 
for it to be passed for publication in Moscow. When both 
authors were able to show that they were not guilty of 
deliberately evading Soviet censorship controls, the RAPP 
instigators of the campaign against them changed their tack, 
and concentrated on the alleged anti-Soviet nature of the 
works in question. They were said to be symptomatic of 
the work of many "fellow travelers," who were now bluntly 
told that they must either make manifest their solidarity 
with the "proletariat ,, and their complete loyalty to the 
Party, or forfeit the right to call themselves Soviet writers. 
The word "Soviet" in this context was henceforth to be in- 
terpreted, not as a mere territorial designation, but as a 
definition of the writers political allegiance. After a series of 
rigged meetings in the various writers' organizations resolu- 
tions were adopted in accordance with which Pilnyak and 
Zamyatin, together with the whole of the old leadership of 
the All-Russian Union of Writers, were removed. At the 
same time the rank-and-file membership was "re-registered" 
and as many as one half were "purged." To mark the radical 
change in the literary situation the All-Russian Union of 
Writers now renamed itself the "All- Russian Union of Soviet 
Writers." All this happened in a society that was not yet 
entirely cowed — the Stalinist terror was only just beginning 
— and there were individual protests against the way in 
which the back of the "fellow-traveler" writers' organization 
had been broken. The most powerful came from Gorky, who 
wrote the following in Izvestia: 

The punishment meted out to Pilnyak is far too severe. . . . All 
my life I have waged a struggle for care in dealing with people 
and I think that in our present conditions this struggle should be 
carried on even more intensively. . . . We have gotten into the 
stupid habit of raising people up into high positions, only to 
throw them down into the mud and the dust. I need not quote 


examples of this absurd and cruel practice, because such exam- 
ples are known to everybody. I am reminded of the way in which 
thieves were lynched in 1917-1918. These dramas were generally 
the work of petty bourgeois elements, and one is reminded of 
them every time one sees with what delight people throw them- 
selves on a man who has made a mistake in order to take his 

This was perhaps the last publicly voiced protest in the 
Soviet Union against a literary frame-up. Later victims en- 
joyed neither the benefit of such support, however muted, 
from their colleagues, nor the luxury of being able to reply 
to their accusers. One cannot help wondering whether his- 
tory might not have taken a somewhat different turn if more 
had been as courageous and uncompromising as Evgeni 
Zamyatin, who wrote in a letter to Literary Gazette on 
September 16, 1929: 

When I returned to Moscow after a summer journey the whole 
affair of my book We was already over. It had been established 
that the appearance of fragments from We in Volia Rossii in 
Prague was a deliberate act on my part, and in regard to this 
"act" all the necessary resolutions had been adopted. But facts 
are stubborn. They are more stubborn than resolutions. Every 
one of them may be confirmed by documents or by people and I 
wish to make them known to my readers. . . . [He goes on to 
give conclusive proof that the publication of parts of We in the 
emigre Volya Rosii was none of his doing.] . . . Thus first there 
was a condemnation and only then an investigation. I imagine 
that no court in the world has ever heard of such a procedure. 
... A meeting of the Moscow branch of the All-Russian Union 
of Writers, without waiting for my explanations, or even express- 
ing a desire to hear them, adopted a resolution condemning my 
"act." The general meeting of the Leningrad branch was called 
on September 22nd and I know of its results only through the 
newspapers. . . . From these it is evident that in Leningrad my 
explanations had been read and that here the opinion of those 
present was divided. A number of the writers, after hearing my 
explanations, considered the whole incident closed. But the major- 
ity found it more prudent to condemn my "act." Such was the 


act of the All-Russian Union of Writers and from this act I draw 
my conclusions: to belong to a literary organization which, even 
indirectly, takes part in the persecution of a co-member, is im- 
possible for me, and I hereby announce my withdrawal from the 
All-Russian Union of Writers. 

A year or so later, after being subjected to all kinds of 
petty humiliation and virtually having been excluded from 
the literary life of Russia (his stage version of Leskov's 
famous conte, "The Steel Flea," scheduled for production in a 
Leningrad theater, was withdrawn solely because of the 
"notoriety" of its author), Zamyatin wrote an astonishing 
letter to Stalin 3 in which he requested that his "condemnation 
to death" as a writer be commuted to exile from the Soviet 
Union, as provided for under the Soviet penal code, and even 
more astonishingly — owing perhaps to the intercession of 
Gorky — Stalin granted his request. Pilnyak on the other 
hand, made a groveling submission (in private — public re- 
cantations were not yet de rigueur in cases such as these) 
and he perished a few years later during the Yezhov terror. 

The thirties were not the worst years for Soviet literature 
( these were to come after 1946 ) but they saw the establish- 
ment of those features of Soviet literature which distinguish 
it from all other literatures in the world. What makes it 
unique is that these features were imposed from without. 
It is obvious that literature need not necessarily suffer from 
purely negative limitations on the right of publication ( nine- 
teenth-century Russian literature and early Soviet literature 
flourished under censorship) or from the voluntary accept- 
ance of a particular set of doctrinal terms of reference ( as in 
the case of Catholic writers ) , but when matters of form and 
content are strictly regulated in accordance with extraliterary 
criteria, the result is very serious for creative effort. The 
way in which "socialist realism" was made binding on Soviet 
writers, the reasons for it, and the consequences of this 
imposition must be outlined. 

3 The full text is reproduced in Litsa, Chekhov Press, New York, 1955. 


In April 1932 the Central Committee of the CPSU unex- 
pectedly issued a decree ordering the disbandment of RAPP, 
the now cowed and emasculated All-Russian Union of Soviet 
Writers and other residual groups, and setting up in their 
place the Union of Soviet Writers which exists in the same 
form today. It was made clear that membership in this new 
unitary organization would be essential for anyone who 
wished to make writing his livelihood. One of Stalin's reasons 
for discarding the "proletarians" of RAPP (many of whom, 
including Averbakh, were later denounced and liquidated as 
"Trotskyists") was no doubt that, once they had performed 
their task of bringing to heel the "fellow travelers," their ex- 
cessive zeal, which had been an advantage for this purpose, 
was now only an embarrassment to him. Stalin much preferred 
compliant "fellow travelers" to fanatical Marxist idealists, 
many of whom, like Akim and his uncle in Pilnyak's tale, 
were indeed temperamentally more in tune with the fervent 
intellectualism of Trotsky than with the humdrum empiricism 
of Stalin. In general the thirties are remarkable for the fact 
that genuine Marxists were gradually replaced in many fields 
by people with a "bourgeois" and even "counterrevolution- 
ary" past who were willing to pay lip service to anything as 
the price of survival. Thus the bourgeois historians Tarle and 
Wipper were called in to glorify Kutuzov and Ivan the Ter- 
rible while the veteran Marxist, Pokrovsky, was denounced 
for "vulgar sociologism," i.e., for writing history as Marx 
and Engels had written it. In literature — with consummate 
skill, it must be admitted — the former count Alexei Tolstoy 
showed that his master had a not unworthy forerunner in 
Peter the Great. 

To be a writer one now not only had to be a member of the 
Union of Soviet Writers but also had to subscribe to the 
"method" of socialist realism. This method — the question 
as to whether it is a "method" or a "theory" has never satis- 
factorily been resolved by the pundits — was elaborated in 
open debate during the two years between the Party decree 
of 1932 and the First Congress of Soviet writers in 1934 when 


the doctrine was promulgated by Zhdanov, who made his 
debut on this occasion as Stalin's great panjandrum in cul- 
tural matters. The theory appears to have been devised by 
Gorky in consultation with Stalin. For Gorky the principal 
intention was no doubt to keep Soviet literature in the 
mainstream of the classical realist tradition of which he him- 
self was the last great representative, but for Stalin, as well 
as being in keeping with his own pedestrian tastes, it must 
have seemed an attractive way of subordinating literature 
and the arts to his purpose. Essentially an attempt to com- 
bine incompatible elements, it was from the first riddled with 
contradictions and was hence rarely satisfactorily applied 
from the official point of view. The inherent contradictoriness 
of the theory has best been described by Abram Tertz, the 
pseudonymous Soviet author of an essay on socialist realism 
first published in the French magazine Esprit in February 

If many [Soviet] writers are going through a crisis at the moment 
... it is because they have to seek a compromise and unite what 
cannot be united: the "positive hero," who logically lends himself 
to schematized, allegorical treatment — with psychological char- 
acter study; an elevated declamatory style — with description of 
prosaic, everyday life; a sublime ideal — with verisimilitude to 
reality. This results in a monstrous salad. The characters [of So- 
viet fiction] torment themselves almost a la Dostoevsky, grow 
sad almost a la Chekhov, arrange their family life almost a la 
Tolstoy, and yet at the same time vie with each other in shouting 
platitudes from the Soviet press: "Long live peace in the whole 
world" and "Down with the warmongers." This is neither classi- 
cism nor realism. It is semi-classical demi-art of a none too 
socialist demi-realism. [Note: The full text of this important 
essay was published by Pantheon Books in 1961, under the title 
On Socialist Realism.] 

What it amounted to was that the Soviet writers were to 
model themselves on the nineteenth-century Russian classics 
(Gorky himself launched the slogan "Learn from the clas- 
sics!") and adopt a kind of composite style based on the 


language of Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Chekhov (Dostoevsky 
was less favored as time went on ) . All the modernist move- 
ments of the beginning of the century and the early Soviet 
period (symbolism, imagism, futurism — of which Maya- 
kovsky was a product — and the rich "ornamental" style 
which Pilnyak and others derived from Andrei Bely and 
Alexei Remizov) were declared to have been an aberration 
in the development of Russian literature and were henceforth 
denounced as "formalism. " Strictly speaking, "formalism" had 
been nothing more than the name of a highly interesting and 
original method of literary criticism (its protagonists, such 
as Victor Shklovsky and Roman Jakobson, referred to it as 
"the formal method in literature" and its enemies called it 
"formalism") which had concentrated on the analysis of form 
in art and literature. It arose in the early twenties among a 
group of young critics and linguists who set themselves the 
task of restoring the balance in Russian literary criticism, 
which had always been almost exclusively concerned with 
matters of content. Readers may judge the true nature of 
formalism from the essay by Victor Shklovsky, extracts from 
which have been included in this book. In the era of socialist 
realism the word "formalism" was misappropriated, like 
many other terms, and came to cover a multitude of sins. It 
became a blanket term of abuse for the slightest deviation 
from the run-of-the-mill "realist" style and was freely applied 
to anyone, whatever the nature of his offense, who seemed 
to the now ubiquitous watchdogs to be in any way "offbeat." 
But the greatest difficulty for the writers was that, in ac- 
cordance with the formula laid down by Zhdanov, they were 
expected to employ the realist style of the nineteenth-century 
classics in a spirit which was quite alien to its creators. An 
essential feature of the new doctrine was the sharp distinc- 
tion to be drawn between "socialist" realism and the "critical" 
realism of the classics. The latter, it was said, had used the 
realist method to negate the society in which they lived, 
whereas the Soviet writer was required by the same method 
to affirm the new socialist order, which was ex hypothesi 


the most benevolent and the most nearly perfect ever estab- 
lished on earth. It was therefore incumbent on the writers not 
only to describe it "realistically in its revolutionary develop- 
ment" (Zhdanov's phrase), but also to assist the Party in its 
task of completing the social transformation now in progress, 
of consolidating the gains already made, and of educating 
people in the ways of virtue. Since, in Marxist theory, con- 
sciousness always lags behind economic and social change, 
there were still admittedly many wayward citizens who were 
slow to realize the benefits of the new order, their minds 
being infected by "survivals of capitalism/' One of the 
writers' principal duties was to expose and hold up to scorn 
these "survivals," and thus hasten the day when all would 
model themselves on the New Man. In the words of Stalin's 
famous obiter dictum, writers were to be "engineers of 
human souls." 4 A sanction for this total subjection of litera- 
ture to the will of the Party was found in an essay of Lenin's, 
"Party Literature and the Party Organization," written in 
1905. In it Lenin insisted that anybody who wrote for social- 
democrat journals should express the general line of the 
Party. At that time, when journals of different political 
complexions could be published more or less freely in Rus- 
sia, this was a perfectly reasonable and legitimate demand 
to make, being designed to exclude interlopers from rival 
parties. It should be noted, furthermore, that in talking 
of "literature" in this connection, Lenin was not primarily 
referring to "belles-lettres." At the first Congress of Soviet 
writers in 1934 Zhdanov, however, quoted this article as his 
authority for making partiinost (roughly: complete submis- 
sion to the Party line and acceptance of its guidance in all 
things) the cornerstone of socialist realism. Whether Lenin 
would have been displeased or not at this chicanery is open 
to question. 

In these conditions, coupled with increasing terror which 
culminated in the Yezhovshchina of 1937, most Soviet writers 

4 When and where he said this has never been revealed. 


were faced with an agonizing choice: either to collaborate or 
to cease writing altogether. Some, like Pasternak and Babel, 
virtually ceased to publish. Some sought refuge in translation 
and in writing for children. The majority, however, collabo- 
rated to some degree or another. For the collaborators^ 
willing or unwilling, various inner accommodations were 
necessary. It was no longer possible, as it had been dur- 
ing the twenties, to merge body and soul with the pro- 
letariat. Nobody merged with anybody any more. The aliena- 
tion of man from man was more complete, in the name of 
collectivism, than it had ever been, possibly, in the whole of 
human history. Leonid Leonov, easily the most distinguished 
and subtle of the surviving Soviet novelists, and an avowed 
disciple of Dostoevsky, continued to write all through the 
worst period without unduly compromising his artistic in- 
tegrity. But this was an isolated case. Leonov's rationalization 
of his position was based on the same sort of mystic national- 
ism, and probably combined with the same religious mes- 
sianism, as one finds in Dostoevsky *s Diary of a Writer. For 
Leonov bolshevism is only one episode in the eternal destinies 
of Russia. He may even have been intrigued by the special 
problems of writing within the cramped confines of socialist 
realism and he may well have regarded his work in these 
conditions as a kind of podvig ( spiritual feat ) in the Russian 
Orthodox tradition. His was the noblest type of collaboration 
and it was undoubtedly motivated by a feeling of duty 
towards his generation. Not everybody could enjoy the rela- 
tive luxury of silence and he felt it necessary to convey to his 
readers — through all the almost insuperable barriers — some- 
thing of the truth about man and Russia. In this, for all those 
capable of interpreting his subtle ambiguities, he succeeded 
well. His most impressive "feat" was the novel Russian For- 
est, written in the most difficult years preceding Stalin's 
death and published in 1953. Impeccably "socialist realist" 
in tone and structure, this novel yet manages to suggest by 
devious symbolism that human affairs and the fate of Russia 
are much more complex than the crude oversimplifications 


of official thought would ever follow. Ilya Ehrenburg adapted 
himself to circumstances, but with far less success from a 
literary point of view, for very different reasons from those 
of Leonid Leonov. Essentially an internationalist in outlook, 
he adopted the "lesser evil" fallacy that since fascism, of the 
two competing totalitarian systems which threatened to 
dominate the world, was palpably the more evil, an intellec- 
tual who wished to work for its defeat could not logically 
refuse support to Soviet communism, even in its rapidly 
degenerating Stalinist form. Judging from his work after 
Stalin's death he has considerably modified his previous atti- 
tude and he now appears as a strong champion of greater 
independence for Soviet writers. 

Leonov and Ehrenburg are the best examples of the two 
main types of adaptation to the exigencies of socialist realism 
and stringent Party control over literary life. There were, of 
course, other categories. A small minority, including Alex- 
ander Fadeyev who committed suicide in 1956, fanatically 
believed in socialist realism, and by virtue of their sincerity, 
they were able to use the method with somewhat greater 
effect than those, like Alexei Surkov (a former RAPPist and 
Fadeyev's successor as secretary of the Union of Soviet 
Writers ) , in whom one may suspect a considerable element 
of cynical opportunism. Sholokhov stood apart, apparently 
not caring, writing scarcely anything and basking com- 
placently in his officially sponsored and quite incongruous 
reputation as the greatest socialist realist of them all. This 
judgment, together with Stalin's canonization of Mayakovsky, 
made the work of the literary theorists even more difficult. 
And Quiet Flows the Don, written well before the promulga- 
tion of the new doctrine, offends many of the canons of 
socialist realism, not least by the comparative objectivity of 
its treatment of history, its naturalistic language in scenes 
involving violence or sex, and the moral ambiguity of its hero. 
A year or two ago, addressing a group of Czech writers in 
Prague, Sholokhov said that he had not the faintest idea of 
what was meant by socialist realism. 


What it meant in practice, particularly in the postwar 
years, was an extreme schematism in the presentation of 
character which would scarcely be tolerated in even the 
most fourth-rate cowboy film, a falsification, blatant beyond 
belief, of native and foreign realities, both past and present, 
and a drab emasculated language reminiscent of Tolstoy and 
Gorky at their worst. The latter conducted a campaign in 
the middle thirties for the "purity" of the Russian language, 
and Soviet writers, in their anxiety to avoid being charged 
with "naturalism" (a cardinal offense against "realism") 
began to use a sterilized language carefully shorn of all the 
expressive slang and dialect which had been characteristic 
of Russian writing in the twenties. Plots became more and 
more simple and their outcome more and more predictable. 
Optimism reigned supreme and all endings were happy — 
except, of course, in capitalist countries. 5 

The outbreak of war in 1941 made an immense difference. 
In a memorable passage at the end of Dr. Zhivago Pasternak 
has described how the war "broke the spell of the dead 
letter." The almost universal sense of liberation from the 
unbearable terrors and shams of peacetime is also conveyed 
in the poem by Julia Neiman in this book. The Stalinist 
terror — and this may well have been one of its principal 
aims — had so atomized society, mistrust among people ( even 
among members of the same family) was so intense, and the 
public obligation, again in Pasternak's words, "to praise what 
you hate most and to grovel before what makes you un- 
happy" had become so intolerable that the ordeal of the war 
came as a blissful release. 

In that year of "camouflage," as Julia Neiman says in her 
poem, people saw each other without masks. Human bonds 
were restored in the face of death and suffering, and in the 
camaraderie of war people began to trust each other again. 
Most Soviet writers served at the front as war correspondents 
and many were killed. Freed of the enforced hypocrisies of 

5 Frightened editors were often as much to blame as the writers for this state 
of affairs, as readers may judge from Polyakov's "Fireman Prokhorchuk." 


peacetime, they wrote about people and things with relative 
truth and sincerity. Apart from excellent war reportage there 
was a number of novels and poems of high quality which 
will survive. Konstantin Simonov's Days and Nights and 
Russian People, Alexander Korneichuk's Front, Vasili Gross- 
man's The People Is Immortal, Alexander Fadeyev's Young 
Guard (before he rewrote it on the instructions of the Party) 
and particularly Petro Vershigora's unfinished Men with a 
Clear Conscience, a remarkable account of partisan warfare 
in the Ukraine, are real works of literature. Surkov and 
Simonov will be remembered for their wartime lyrics. The 
new-found feeling of solidarity and relative freedom from 
fear made it possible for editors to publish works which 
could scarcely have appeared in print before the war. Per- 
haps the most extraordinary example is Mikhail Zoshchenko's 
"Before Sunrise," extracts from which appear in this volume. 
Poets who had long been silent, such as Boris Pasternak and 
Anna Akhmatova, were published again. 

The wartime solidarity which had sprung up among Rus- 
sians was intolerable to Stalin. He regarded mutual trust 
among people as tantamount to a conspiracy against himself 
and he hastened to bring it to an end. The greater freedoms 
which the writers had enjoyed during the war were abruptly 
destroyed in August 1946. The technique was very much 
the same as in the case of Pilnyak and Zamyatin eighteen 
years before. This time the chosen scapegoats were Zosh- 
chenko, Akhmatova, and Pasternak. In a denunciatory speech 
of unparalleled scurrility Zhdanov accused Zoshchenko and 
Akhmatova (whom he described as "half nun and half 
whore") of disarming the Soviet people in their struggle 
to build communism, of disorienting and demoralizing Soviet 
youth, and of undermining the principles of socialist real- 
ism by writing in a subjective and pessimistic way with- 
out regard for the great political ideas from which the 
people drew its inspiration. Zhdanov's speech was followed 
by a decree of the Central Committee which ordained the 
strict observance of socialist realism and announced cer- 


tain practical measures to insure that there would be no 
backsliding from it in the future. Leningrad, one of the 
journals which had published offending work, was abolished 
altogether and the other, Zvezda, was put under the charge 
of a member of the Central Committee. The easygoing 
Tikhonov, whose "fellow-traveling" past had been anything 
but orthodox, was replaced as secretary of the Union of 
Soviet Writers by the fanatical Fadeyev. The orgy of de- 
nunciation in the press after this decree was as bad as any- 
thing before the war. The atmosphere of terror was re- 
established and all the gains made during the war were 
wiped out. The years that followed were unimaginable. 
Literature and the arts ceased to exist in any recognizable 
form. The cinema was almost completely destroyed. After 
the Central Committee's decree denouncing, among other 
films, the second part of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible? 
most of the studios were closed down and there was con- 
sequently such a shortage of material for the movie houses 
that several captured Nazi films, dubbed in Russian and 
billed as "new foreign films," were shown to Soviet audiences. 
One was the anti-British School of Hatred, which had its 
premiere in Berlin in 1941. It shows the revolt of some Irish 
schoolboys against their sadistic English master and it ends 
with the burning of the Union Jack. Another such film, The 
Last Round, is anti-American and it concerns the fixing of 
boxing matches in New York; the hero is a blond member 
of the master race. The showing of these films occurred at a 
time when the West was frequently accused in the Soviet 
press of borrowing its propaganda techniques "from the 
kitchen of the late Dr. Goebbels." The whole atmosphere of 
the period is suggested in Lev KassiFs allegory "The Tale of 
the Three Master Craftsmen." Its reference to the terroriza- 
tion of creative artists by Stalin ("King Vainglorious") is so 
obvious that one may ask how it ever got into print. It seems 

6 Eisenstein was accused of having depicted the "progressive" praetorian 
guard (oprichnina) of Ivan the Terrible as a band of fascist hooligans like 
the Ku Klux Klan. 


likely that the censor who dealt with it was not overanxious 
to admit that he saw any resemblance between the unhappy 
kingdom of Sinegoriya and postwar Russia. It is probably 
unique as an anti-Stalinist satire published while Stalin was 
still alive. 

The death of "King Vainglorious" in March 1953 had a 
liberating effect far greater even than that of the war. In the 
last eight years, though sudden advances have often been 
succeeded by alarming setbacks, there has been a constant 
and cumulative improvement in nearly all spheres. Though 
ultimate Party control of literature and the arts has never 
been abandoned (and could of course at any moment be 
restored in all its vigor) it has nevertheless been exercised, 
on the whole, with restraint and intelligence and has even, 
for brief periods, been relaxed to a degree which would have 
been quite inconceivable in Stalin's day. The paraphernalia 
of socialist realism and particularly the basic concept of 
partiinost have been firmly maintained in theory, but in 
practice there has often been considerable latitude in the 
interpretation of them. Outright questioning of the Party's 
right to control literature has always provoked a strong 
reaction, but that its wisdom may sometimes be doubted by 
implication is shown by the passage from Ehrenburg's mem- 
oirs quoted above. Altogether one has the impression that 
censorship controls have gradually been relaxed to some 
extent, much more being left to the discretion of editors. 
Since "mistakes" are no longer automatically denounced as 
crimes, editors have become increasingly ready to take risks. 
This new confidence is well expressed by the editor of Novy 
Mir, Alexander Tvardovsky, who wrote in one of his poems 
a few years ago : "In future, too, things may be hard, but we 
shall never again be afraid." The course of events since 
Stalin's death may be summarized as follows: 

At the end of 1953 two articles published in Novy Mir cast 
doubt on socialist realism and the Party's guidance of litera- 
ture. In his article "On Sincerity in Literature" V. Pome- 
rantsev suggested that the only criterion for a writer should 


be his own inner convictions. Mark Shcheglov, in a review of 
Leonov's Russian Forest, said that the novel's only major 
defect was that the "negative hero" was not clearly shown to 
be a product of the Soviet system. Leonov had of course 
covered himself (or "re-insured" in the writers' argot of 
those days) by tracing the villain's original sin to the pre- 
revolutionary conditions in which he grew up. One of the 
particularly constricting demands of socialist realism is that 
there can never be the slightest implication that Soviet 
society might generate its own specific defects. It always had 
to be made plain that such shortcomings as exist are untypical 
"survivals of capitalism." Early in 1954 there was a crop of 
stories and plays which for the first time dealt with certain 
ugly phenomena in Soviet life. Ehrenburg's Thaw hinted at 
the true nature of the prewar purges and openly referred 
to the officially inspired anti-Semitism of the last years of 
Stalin's life. Leonid Zorin in his play The Guests described a 
police frame-up, on the lines of the "doctors' plot," and the 
degeneration of the cynical Soviet bureaucrat responsible 
for it. Korneichuk's Wings was similarly concerned with a 
deliberate perversion of justice, this time involving the wife 
of a high Party functionary who had been left behind in 
enemy-occupied territory during the war and who was con- 
sequently, like so many others in this category, regarded as 
a traitor. The play is remarkable for the first use in print of 
the term "concentration camp" instead of the usual euphe- 
mistic "corrective labor camp" and for a highly artificial "op- 
timistic" ending (strikingly different from the denouement 
of Zorin's play ) . In Wings the victim of the outrage renders 
impassioned thanks to the Central Committee (at this time 
headed by Malenkov, who, in the pursuance of power after 
Stalin's death, was vying with his colleagues for the popular 
support which would accrue to the one who would first 
reveal the scope and nature of their late master's misdeeds ) 
for its timely intercession and its determination never to per- 
mit such things to happen again. Significantly this play was 
never attacked during the "freeze-up" of 1954, and it was 


the first in a genre which should be approached with caution. 
In the first few years after Stalin's death the Party undoubt- 
edly indulged in what might be called "literary zubatovism" 7 
as one of its more intelligent efforts to combat opposition 
without recourse to brutal repression. By allowing certain 
writers to outbid genuine protest ( it is noteworthy that their 
"revelations" are always more "sensational" than those of 
genuine oppositionists who are naturally more cautious) it 
evidently hoped that the true writers of the "thaw" might be 
thereby disarmed and their effect on Soviet readers neu- 
tralized. Another patently "zubatovist" work was Galina 
Nikolayeva's Battle on the Way with its interesting descrip- 
tion of Stalin's funeral. This policy was probably associated 
with such members of the "anti-Party group" as Malenkov, 
and appears to have been abandoned now. 

The reaction against the first phase of "thaw" literature 
came during 1954. Simonov attacked Ehrenburg's novel. 
Pomerantsev's article and Zorin's play were officially con- 
demned in a statement from the Ministry of Culture, and 
Tvardovsky (as well as Feodor Panferov, the editor of an- 
other literary monthly, Oktyabr) were dismissed from their 
posts following a public denunciation by Surkov. On the 
face of it, this looked like a total reversal to Stalinist methods, 
but in fact it was not. There was no general campaign of 
intimidation and no gross interference by the Party, which 
was now already committed to the creation of a somewhat 
better public image for itself in the eyes of both Russia and 
the West. There was much to live down and a repetition of 
the Zhdanov scandal of 1946 would have been inconvenient 
at this moment. So the covert campaign for freedom went on, 
and at the second Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in 
December 1954 there were some notable, albeit cautiously- 

7 Zubatov was a Czarist police official in the early years of the century who 
with the connivance of his superiors set up trade unions which attempted, 
with some success, to canalize the workers' revolutionary energies into the 
comparatively innocuous struggle for economic improvement. It was difficult 
to tell, in the case of many people associated with this unprecedented experi- 
ment in "police socialism," who was genuine and who was not. 


worded, pleas — particularly from Alexander Yashin, Ben- 
jamin Kaverin, and Ehrenburg — for a more reasonable ap- 
proach to the problems of literature. It was clear, however, 
that the diehards were still overwhelmingly strong and could 
count on decisive political support, even though they were 
not allowed to destroy their opponents as they would have 
done in former days. In the next two years there was an 
uneasy truce between both camps, neither side going out 
of its way to be unduly provocative. After Khrushchev's 
"secret speech" at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, 
there was a renewed outburst of "oppositional" writing, 
similar to the one after Stalin s death. In fact 1956 was the 
annus mirabilis of postwar Soviet literature. Apart from 
Dudintsev's Not by Bread Alone, with its indictment of the 
Soviet bureaucracy and, even more important, its emphasis 
on the need for intellectual independence, there was the 
second volume of the almanac Literary Moscow, 8 from which 
we have taken Julia Neiman's poem. What she says in this 
about 1941 applied with even greater force to 1956, but 
unfortunately Literary Moscow was published only a few 
weeks before the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution. 
The Party's fear of "revisionism" and the neo-Stalinist ex- 
ploitation of this fear — they could now say in triumph "We 
told you so!" — led to a setback which at first looked even 
worse than in 1954. Khrushchev himself, at a famous meeting 
in a country villa near Moscow, gathered the writers together 
and admonished them to adhere more strictly to the prin- 
ciples of socialist realism and never to forget that they were 
the servants of the Party. A hitherto little-known writer from 
Leningrad, Vsevolod Kochetov, wrote an "anti-revisionist" 
novel, The Brothers Ershov, which was in effect a denuncia- 
tion of those Soviet writers responsible for the "thaw." It 
has an undercurrent of hostility to the intelligentsia as a 
whole and contrasts it with the right-minded and loyal 
"proletariat." There are ugly insinuations about Ilya Ehren- 

8 The best and most revealing story in this collection, "The Levers," by A. 
Yashin, was published in the Summer 1958 issue of Partisan Review. 


burg, the journal Novy Mir (which has consistently in the 
last few years been the main forum of the more independent- 
minded intellectuals) and the second volume of Literary 
Moscow. The latter, incidentally, was produced by a group 
of Moscow writers who evidently tried, some time in 1956, 
to set up a semi-autonomous writers' organization outside 
the rigidly controlled Union of Soviet Writers. This could 
easily have led to the creation of a center of intellectual dis- 
affection on the lines of the Petoeffi Circle in Budapest. 
Although it would hardly have been allowed to develop this 
far, and would certainly not have made the explosive contact 
with the workers which was so remarkable in Hungary, 
it is nevertheless fair to say that anything seemed possi- 
ble in the hectic atmosphere after Khrushchev's revelations 
about Stalin. In his novel Kochetov made the ominous point 
that there could indeed have been a "Hungarian" crisis in 
Russia itself and that the Soviet intellectuals — he sometimes 
puts the word in a pejorative diminutive form: intelligentiki 
— of the type of Ehrenburg (who though not mentioned 
by name is clearly alluded to) would have been morally 
responsible for it. The lesson of the book is that "revisionism" 
is potential treachery and that hence the intellectuals must 
be kept firmly under the control of the "proletariat," i.e. the 
Party leadership. 

For several months after Hungary there was a violent 
campaign against "revisionism"; for a short time in 1957 
Kochetov was editor of the strategic and hitherto on the 
whole "liberal" Literary Gazette and there was scarcely any 
interesting new literature. In general things looked black. 
But as in the reaction of 1954, the situation looked more 
serious than it really was. The Party got over its panic about 
Hungary and, its confidence restored — probably not least 
owing to the Soviet triumph in outer space — it decided not 
to use Kochetov, Surkov, and the other neo-Stalinists (by 
now a thoroughly discredited and very small group utterly 
despised by the majority of Soviet intellectuals) as an in- 
strument against the "opposition." Early in 1958 Kochetov 


was removed from the editorship of Literary Gazette and 
replaced by S. Smirnov, the author of a "decent" (i.e. "non- 
zubatovist") novel, The Brest Fortress, which describes 
without the usual embellishments the military debacle of the 
beginning of the war. The Third Congress of the Union of 
Soviet Writers, which took place in May 1959, marked a very 
important stage of development in Soviet literary affairs. 
In a good-humored and conciliatory speech Khrushchev 
called upon the writers to settle their squabbles among them- 
selves and not come running to the "government" for the 
solution of their problems and to show more tolerance for 
writers who had "erred" (there was a specific reference to 
Vladimir Dudintsev). Despite the usual ritualistic mention 
of the dangers of "revisionism" and the cardinal importance 
of partiinost, the effect of this speech was remarkably benefi- 
cial and developments since the Third Congress have on 
the whole been encouraging. 9 By failing to give them the 
decisive support for which they evidently hoped, Khrushchev 
in fact disarmed the neo-Stalinists, who as a consequence 
have clearly been on the defensive ever since. After the 
Congress the writers immediately took advantage of Khrush- 
chev's invitation to set their own house in order and ousted 
Surkov as secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers, appoint- 
ing the moderate Konstantin Fedin in his place. Further- 

9 An interesting sidelight at this Congress was the speech of Boris Polevoi 
in which he settled accounts with his old friend Howard Fast. One of Fast's 
reasons for breaking with the Communist Party was that Polevoi, on one of 
his visits to America, had lied to him about the fate of Kvitko, one of the 
twenty or so Soviet Yiddish writers who were shot in 1952 — a fact which was 
revealed in the Warsaw Folkshtimme in 1956, but which has still not pub- 
licly been admitted in the Soviet Union, where Itzik Feffer, Bergelson, and 
some of the other dead Yiddish writers are occasionally referred to as having 
"died tragically." Polevoi said in his speech that the defection of Fast from 
the ranks of "progressive" literature was more than compensated for by the 
acquisition of Curzio Malaparte who, according to Polevoi, had applied for 
membership in the Italian Communist Party on his deathbed. Malaparte, a 
former Fascist and a correspondent with the Italian division fighting the Rus- 
sians during the war, is the author of The Skin, a novel in which it is sug- 
gested, among other things, that all communists are homosexuals. 


more, two former victims of Surkov, Tvardovsky and Pan- 
ferov, were adopted onto the board of the Union. 

In the improved atmosphere of the last three years a con- 
siderable amount of interesting work, some specimens of 
which are given in our collection, has appeared in the literary 
journals. What is striking about much recent writing is its 
unorthodoxy, in formal rather than political terms, by the 
traditional standards of socialist realism. "Three, Seven, Ace" 
by the gifted young writer Vladimir Tendryakov is a case in 
point. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to 
suggest, however obliquely, that it would be possible for a 
whole collective of honest Soviet working men to be cor- 
rupted by one evil man. Even more striking is the ending 
which leaves the reader in doubt as to whether justice — even 
"socialist justice" — will be done or not. Yuri Kazakov's "Out- 
sider" is equally impressive for its sympathetic approach 
to the frailties of human nature. Evtushenko's poem "Babi 
Yar" speaks for itself as an example of the extent to which 
Soviet writers may now express their commitment to radical 
change. There is a new style in prose of almost Chekhovian 
objectivity, and the once obligatory distortion of Soviet 
reality, with the presentation of shortcomings in human na- 
ture as transitory "survivals of capitalism" untypical of Soviet 
society, is much less common than it was. The extent to 
which some Soviet writers would certainly go in dismantling 
the literary and political orthodoxies of the past, if all barriers 
to free publication were removed, is indicated by the "clan- 
destine" tale of the writer who calls himself Nikolai Arzak. 
A striking characteristic of this underground fiction is the 
extent to which it relies on macabre fantasy and eroticism. 
Like Abram Tertz, Arzak revolts against the humdrum real- 
ism and the sexual prudery so characteristic of the last three 

In 1960 there were ominous signs of a comeback on the 
part of the neo- Stalinists. In July 1960 Kochetov, writing 
in the popular illustrated weekly Ogonyok, described Novy 


Mir as "that paltry little journal which spreads its nihilistic 
poison among our intelligentsia," and his friend in Leningrad, 
V. Arkhipov, writing in the neo-Stalinist Neva, attacked Ilya 
Ehrenburg for undermining the principle of partiinost and 
denounced Literary Gazette for publishing an article by 
Norman Cousins, described as "cosmopolitan balderdash." 
At the end of the year, though probably not as a result of this 
attack, S. Smirnov was dismissed as the editor of Literary 
Gazette and replaced by his deputy, V. A. Kosolapov. Worst 
of all, Kochetov was appointed at the beginning of 1961 as 
the editor of one of the leading literary monthlies, Oktyabr, 
in succession to Feodor Panferov, who died in I960. 10 

It is unlikely that the re-emergence of Kochetov, which 
could scarcely have happened without strong official support, 
is a sign of some impending regression in Soviet literature. 
The most likely explanation is that the Party wishes to restore 
some balance between the two camps which now for the first 
time since the twenties almost openly exist among Soviet 
writers. There is even a clear identification of certain journals 
with both sides: the monthlies Novy Mir and Yunost and the 
bi-weekly Literary Gazette are on the whole "progressive," 
while Neva (and now Oktyabr) and the bi-weekly Liter atura 
i Zhizn are "reactionary." The progressives, now overwhelm- 
ingly strong in numbers, are, it is no doubt considered, best 
kept in check by having the threat of total reaction always 
hanging over them. This is a better and more intelligent way 
of imposing restraint on them than by gross administrative 

If anybody should doubt that there are indeed "two camps" 
among Soviet writers ( and this is insistently denied by Soviet 
publicists), then he has only to read the speeches of Alex- 
ander Tvardovsky, and Vsevolod Kochetov, at the Twenty- 

10 Just before his death Panferov completed a novel, In the Name of the 
Young, which was attacked for its near-pornographical elements. The writer 
of these lines, who was Panferov's host during his month's visit to England 
in 1958, is introduced at one stage, under the thinly disguised name of 
"Mister Wood," in the role of an unsuccessful pimp. 



second Party Congress. 11 Kochetov, needless to say, was the 
spokesman for the "reactionaries", 12 and his nostalgia for the 
clear-cut situation of Stalin's day was only too apparent. He 
spoke on the last day of the Congress, evidently having re- 
quested permission to reply to Tvardovsky's eloquent appeal 
on behalf of the "liberals." It is significant that Kochetov was 
the only speaker on this last day who did not welcome in the 
prescribed ritualistic fashion the decision, announced the 
previous day, to remove Stalin's body from the mausoleum. 
Although he never mentions him by name, his speech is 
almost a point-by-point reply to Tvardovsky. 

Tvardovsky had begun by welcoming what he called the 
"spiritual regeneration and liberation from certain con- 
straints" which had taken place in "the period after the 
Twentieth Congress." As a token of this liberation he men- 
tioned the rehabilitation and restoration to Soviet literature 
of those many writers whose names had been erased from 
the record as a result of the "cult of personality." But, he 
said, none of this was achieved without a struggle, and not 
everybody understood the "serious and highly complicated 
ideological changes" which resulted from the Twentieth 
Congress, and, in a clear reference to such people as Koche- 
tov, he warned his listeners that "we still encounter certain 
residual forms of ... former habits of thought and of 
literary practice in the way in which our realities are de- 
picted." Despite all improvements since the Twentieth Con- 
gress, literature had not yet been able to take full advantage 
of the favorable conditions created by it, and had often not 
followed the Party in being bold and truthful. There was 
still too much "reticence" and a lack of "living depth and 

11 Both speeches appeared in Pravda, Tvardovsky's on October 25 and 
Kochetov's on October 31, 1961. 

12 It is interesting that a current term among Soviet intellectuals for the 
"reactionaries" is chernosotentsy, intended to indicate their spiritual kin- 
ship with the extreme right-wing, anti-intellectual, and anti-Semitic groups 
("Black Hundreds") under Nicholas II. The main appeal, as it was then, 
is to "working-class" chauvinism. Concomitantly, more progressive trends in 
art and literature are often colloquially described as "left-wing." 


truth." Here he reminded his audience of Tolstoy's words: 
"The hero of my tale, whom I love with all my soul, ... is 
truth" This continuing lack of truth, according to Tvardov- 
sky, implied lack of trust in the reader, and went back to that 
period of universal suspiciousness which was so "fatal to art." 
Tvardovsky then cleverly suggested that, since one of the 
functions of literature was to assist the Party in educating 
the New Man, those writers who persisted in trying to 
deceive their readers about the facts of life in the Soviet 
Union were in effect cheating the Party as well. Suvorov 
had said that a soldier is proud not only of his exploits but 
also of his hardships, and it was therefore incumbent on 
Soviet literature to describe such hardships "without var- 
nishing reality" ( bez hkirovki). In literature and "in our press 
in general" there was still too much immoderate boastfulness 
in the spirit of the cult of personality, too much concentration 
on red-letter days, and a corresponding neglect of everyday 
life with all its work, cares, and needs. There were still some 
writers who believed that reality should be "embellished," 
and who never went further than the latest Party decree 
in their treatment of shortcomings. Writers who just took 
their materials from the newspapers and from Party docu- 
ments were, he said, to be compared only with kolkhozniks 
who met their compulsory state deliveries of meat by buying 
it in the shops. It is noteworthy that not once in his speech 
did Tvardovsky use the terms "socialist realism" or partiinost. 
In his reply to Tvardovsky, Kochetov, employing a device 
which is now characteristic of the literary diehards, quoted 
some of those remarks in Khrushchev's ambiguous speech 
to the Third Writer's Congress, in May 1959, which appeared 
to be favorable to the Zhdanovist treatment of literary prob- 
lems. He quoted, for instance, Khrushchev's remark that the 
writers should educate people "primarily by positive ex- 
amples in life." He noted with satisfaction that there had 
indeed been some books in recent years which laid the main 
emphasis on "positive heroes," and he picked out for special 
mention only such writers as Mikhail Bubennov, Anna Kara- 


vayeva, and Oles Gonchar, who were notorious under Stalin 
for their abject conformity and whom Tvardovsky certainly 
had in mind in speaking of those who have failed to draw 
any consequences from the Twentieth Congress. Later on, 
Kochetov gave a list of approved poets, such as Mikola 
Bazhan and Maxim Rylski, who are also distinguished only 
by their resistance to the wind of change. 

Having noted these "successes," Kochetov went on to de- 
nounce those who have attempted in recent years to intro- 
duce into Soviet literature the "truth" for which Tvardovsky 
appealed in his address to the Congress. Although he men- 
tioned no names, he was clearly referring to Ehrenburg, one 
of the main spokesmen of the liberals, in the following pas- 
sage, which is also a reply to Tvardovsky y s remark about the 
rehabilitation of writers liquidated under Stalin: ". . . there 
are still . . . morose compilers of memoirs who look to the 
past rather than to the present day or to the future and who 
because of their distorted vision, with zeal worthy of a better 
cause, rake around in the rubbish dump of their very fuddled 
memories in order to drag out into the light of day moldering 
literary corpses and present them as something still capable 
of living . . ." He then referred to the young poets of the 
type of Evtushenko in the following terms: " . . we also 
have some poetic, and also prosaic, chickens who have still 
scarcely lost their yellow down, but who are desperately 
anxious to be thought of as fierce fighting cocks . . ." But the 
most astonishing passage in Kochetov's speech was one in 
which, in total contradiction to the spirit of the Congress, he 
virtually called for a purge of the leadership of the Union 
of Writers, which the "liberals" have dominated since the re- 
moval of Alexei Surkov as General Secretary three years ago: 
"It should be said in all frankness that the Congress should 
have been told about the state of our literary affairs by the 
leadership of the Union of Writers, but this leadership . . . 
to put it in military language, has, as you can see yourselves, 
lost its combative spirit and is in need of a radical regroup- 
ing. Yet it would have a lot to report, if it had not consigned 


to oblivion the main questions of our ideological and creative 

Finally, again clearly replying to Tvardovsky, Kochetov 
hotly defended the concept of lakirovka, i.e. the typically 
Zhdanovist practice of emphasizing only the positive features 
of Soviet life. In this connection, too, he appealed to some 
remarks made by Khrushchev at the third Writer's Congress 
in defense of the "embellishers," who at that time were less 
discredited, and were more able to command some political 
support than is now the case. 

To sum up, it must be said that the Twenty-second Con- 
gress brought further encouragement for the "liberals." 
Kochetov was patently out of tune with the general mood 
and indeed, according to a number of reliable reports, he was 
constantly interrupted and heckled from the floor with shouts 
of "Enough!" and "Shut up!" For the time being at any rate, 
it is clear that the liberals, as represented by Tvardovsky 
(who is now a candidate member of the Central Commit- 
tee), have greater political influence, and have little to fear 
from the desperate rear-guard action of the neo-Stalinists. 
The latter, however, evidently still have their powerful pro- 
tectors. Kochetov was given the Order of Lenin on his fiftieth 
birthday, and his new novel, The Obkom Secretary, has re- 
ceived some support, even though it has enraged the liberals 
by its clearly neo-Stalinist tone. There is the passage, for in- 
stance, in which the hero of the novel returns home after 
attending the secret session on Stalin at the Twentieth Con- 
gress and has the following conversation with his wife: 
" 'Sonya, Sonya,' he said, 'all our life we spent with him, life 
was unthinkable without him. We thought: We will die but 
he will live on and on, because in him we loved Lenin. Do 
you remember how he taught us to love Lenin? Do you re- 
member Questions of Leninism?' Then they took out Ques- 
tions of Leninism and read again the inspired chapters of 
Vladimir Ilich. 'Sonya, Sonya,' he said, 'in him we loved the 
Party, our dear Party which brought us up, which taught us, 
which armed us with an idea which made life three times 


more sensible and more contented. Sonya!' " The novel was 
scathingly attacked in the Literary Gazette of December 16, 
1961, by Y. Surkov (no connection with Alexei Surkov) for, 
in effect, apologizing for Stalin: "[Kochetov] confines criti- 
cism of the cult of personality . . . only to the admission 
that 'there was a time when Lenin's name was overshadowed 
by the name of Stalin/ and then, having admitted this, he 
returns to the old song: 'Then came years of struggle against 
the deviationists, then the war years. During our common 
ordeals Stalin's name rose to untouchable heights.'" Soon 
after this, however, Kochetov was defended in Sovietskaya 
Rossiya ( December 22, 1961 ) and by a Party secretary writ- 
ing in Partiinaya Zhizn (February, 1962). It is quite evident 
from the latter that Kochetov has a considerable following 
among all the innumerable jacks-in-office who cannot accept 
the implications of the exposure of Stalin, because of their 
own past involvement in his crimes. 

The affair of Evtushenko's poem "Babi Yar," published in the 
Literary Gazette of September 19, 1961, was an even clearer 
indication of the division in the ranks of Soviet writers. The 
reactions to Evtushenko's vehement denunciation of Russian 
anti-Semitism were an ominous expression of the Great Rus- 
sian chauvinism which characterizes the neo-Stalinists. It was 
wrongly assumed in the West at the time that these reactions 
were officially inspired. In fact, however, it seems as though 
the authorities were far less distressed by Evtushenko's poem 
than by the embarrassing display of scarcely veiled anti- 
Semitism which it provoked. It is an encouraging sign of the 
relative lack of influence of the neo-Stalinists that, while no 
sanctions appear to have been applied to Evtushenko, the 
editor of Literatura i Zhizn was dismissed for having pub- 
lished the disgraceful outbursts of Markov and Starikov. 
From all this and much similar evidence it would seem that 
Khrushchev, if not the Party as a whole, continues to lean 
toward a neutrality which is favorable to the "progressives." 
It is of course impossible to say how long this state of affairs 
will continue, since it obviously depends on obscure group- 


ings at the center of power, of which we can have no real 

In a passage at the end of Dr. Zhivago, Pasternak says: 
"Although the enlightenment and liberation which had been 
expected to come after the war had not come with victory, 
the presage of freedom was in the air throughout these post- 
war years, and it was their only historical meaning." 

We have seen that there has indeed been a growth of free- 
dom in the years since Stalin s death. The writers have played 
a great part in this. In this brief and necessarily inadequate 
survey I have dwelt on some of the more unsavory aspects of 
Soviet literary history, but I should like to end by saying that 
the majority of Soviet writers have acquitted themselves 
with honor in a situation which required more courage, 
patience, intelligence, and fortitude than could ever be imag- 
ined by people who live in more fortunate circumstances. 
One day it will perhaps be shown that not only Russia, but 
the whole world, is indebted to Soviet literature for keeping 
alive, in unimaginable conditions, that indefinable sense of 
freedom which is common to all men. 




{his early prose fragment was originally published in an obscure 
and ephemeral Social-Revolutionary newspaper Liberty of Labor 
(Volya Truda), on November 20, 1918, and has only recently 
come to light. It will be of interest to readers of Dr. Zhivago since 
it shows that already in 1918 Pasternak had arrived at the 
central conception of his novel, published forty years later. 
Moreover, it contains three names (Galliula, Gimazetdin, and 
Mekhanoshin) which later appeared in Dr. Zhivago, and the 
episode of the accident foreshadows three important events in 
the novel: the death of the hero's father, the interruption of a 
concert because of an accident to one of the performers, and the 
death of Zhivago himself. But most interesting of all is the atti- 
tude to the Revolution and revolutionaries suggested by Kova- 
levskys reflections as he travels with his Zhivago-like companion 
to Moscow, presumably after having heard the news of the abdi- 
cation of the Czar and of the February Revolution. This aspect 
of the fragment is discussed at greater length in Mr. Hayward's 
introduction. The editors are indebted to George Katkov for the 
discovery and interpretation of this fragment. Translation by Max 


Without Love 

A Chapter Jrom a Novel 

He had a brother and it was the brother who walked around 
the house, his feet crunching in the snow, and on the frozen 
steps as he went up them to knock on the door, to knock as 
one does on the door of a blizzard-swept house when the 

4 ] Boris Pasternak 

wind turns your fingers to ice and, whistling and howling, 
roars into your ears that you should knock even louder, if you 
know what's good for you . . . and all the time the same 
wind hammers on the shutters to drown your knocking and 
confuse the people inside. 

They heard him and opened. The house stood on a hill. 
The door was torn from his grasp together with one of his 
gloves, and, as the door flew to and fro and they tried to 
catch it, the gray snow-swept countryside rushed into the 
hall and breathed on the lamps, bringing with it the distant 
tinkle of a sleigh bell. The sound sank in the vast snow field 
and, gasping for breath, called to the rescue. It was carried 
to the house by the overwhelming onrush of the blizzard, 
which had gripped the door in its clutches, and by the dips 
in the sleigh track which had been caught up in some demo- 
niac movement and was slithering under the runners, throw- 
ing up swirling columns of choking snow for all to see for 
miles around. 

When the door had been caught and shut they all got up 
to meet the specter in the hall; in his high boots of reindeer 
skin he was like a wild animal standing on its hind legs. 

"Is it coming?" Kovalevsky asked. 

"Yes, they're on the way. You must get ready." He licked 
his lips and wiped his nose. There was pandemonium as 
bundles and baskets were brought out; the children had 
sulked since nightfall — till then, for want of something bet- 
ter to do and on learning that everything was packed, and 
that there would still be a long wait and nothing to talk about, 
they had pointlessly weighed out raisins on the bare table — 
and now they set up a great wail, putting the blame on each 
other — "It's not me, it's Petya who's howling because papa's 
going away" — and, seeking fair play and a refuge from the 
night, the raisins, the blizzard, the chaos, their papas about to 
depart, the traveling baskets, the oil lamps, and the fur coats, 
they tried to bury their heads in their mothers' aprons. 

But instead they were snatched up, as though on a signal, 
by their nurses and mothers and carried with a sudden gust 


of feeling into the passage, and in the hall, which echoed the 
voices of the coachmen through the folding door, they were 
held up to their fathers. They all stood bare-headed and, 
crossing themselves with emotion, exchanged hurried kisses 
and said it was time to go. 

Meanwhile the Tartar coachmen (they were three in num- 
ber, but there seemed to be ten), carrying lights which 
splashed the snow without spilling into it altogether, dashed 
up to the horses harnessed in file and, ducking down to look 
at the girths and fetlocks, jumped up again at once and began 
to race around like madmen, brandishing their flares and 
lighting up in turn the trunks standing around the sleigh, the 
snow, the underbellies and flanks of the horses and their muz- 
zles which together formed a slender garland, borne aloft, as 
it seemed, by the wind. The moment of departure depended 
on the Tartars. Round about the snow sang in the forest and 
raved in the open country, and it seemed as though the surg- 
ing sound of the night knew Tartar and was arguing with 
Mininbay, who had climbed onto the roof of the sleigh and, 
clutching at his hands, was telling him to fasten down the 
trunks not in the way Gimazetdin was shouting, nor in the 
way suggested by Galliula, who was hardly able to keep his 
feet because of the storm and had gone quite hoarse. . . . 
The moment of departure depended on the Tartars. They 
could hardly wait to take up their whips, whistle at the 
horses, and abandon themselves to the final devil-may-care 
aida. 1 After this no power on earth would hold the horses 
back. Like drunkards to the bottle the Tartars were drawn 
irresistibly, more and more eagerly with each passing minute, 
to the mournful whoops and cajolery of their trade. Hence 
the feverish movements of their frenzied alcoholic hands as 
they rushed to help their masters into their heavy fur coats. 

And now the flares sent a last farewell kiss to those who 
were being left behind. Goltsev had already stumbled into 
the depths of the sleigh and Kovalevsky, floundering in the 

1 A Tartar word meaning, roughly "let's go!' 

6 ] Boris Pasternak 

tails of his three coats, climbed after him under the heavy 
traveling rug. Unable to feel the floor through their broad 
felt boots, they nestled down in the straw, the cushions, and 
the sheepskins. A flare appeared on the far side of the sleigh 
but suddenly bobbed down out of sight. 

The sleigh shuddered and heaved. It slithered forward, 
lurched over, and began to turn on its side. A low whistle 
came from the depths of an Asian soul, and after righting the 
sleigh with their shoulders, Mininbay and Gimazetdin leaped 
into their seats. The sleigh shot forward as though borne on 
wings and plunged into the nearby forest. The open country, 
disheveled and moaning, rose up behind it. It was glad to see 
the end of the sleigh which disappeared without a trace 
among the trees with branches like carpet slippers, at the 
junction with the main road to Chistopole and Kazan. Minin- 
bay got off here and, wishing his master a good journey, 
vanished in the storm like a flurry of powdered snow. They 
sped on and on over the arrow-straight highway. 

"I asked her to come here with me," one of them thought, 
breathing in the dampness of thawing fur. "I remember how 
it was." A lot of streetcars had got stuck in front of the theater 
and an anxious crowd was milling around the first one. . . . 
"The performance has begun," the usher said in a confidential 
whisper and, gray in his cloth uniform, he drew back the 
cloth curtain separating the stalls from the lighted cloakroom 
with its benches, galoshes, and posters. In the intermission 
(it went on longer than usual) they walked around the foyer, 
peering sideways at the mirrors, and neither of them knew 
what to do with their hands which were hot and red. "So 
there now; thinking it all over," she took a sip of seltzer 
water, "I just don't know what to do or how I should decide. 
So please don't be surprised if you hear that I've gone to the 
front as a nurse. I shall enroll in a few days' time. . . ." "Why 
don't you come with me to the Kama?" he said. She laughed. 

The intermission had gone on so long because of the musi- 
cal item at the beginning of the second act. It could not be 
played without an oboe, and the oboist was the unfortunate 


cause of the streetcar stoppage in front of the theater. "He's 
badly hurt," people whispered to each other, taking their 
places when the painted hem of the curtain began to glow. 
"He was unconscious when they pulled him from under the 
wheels," their friends told them, as they padded over the 
cloth-covered carpet in heavy galoshes, trailing the ends of 
kerchiefs and shawls. 

"And now they'll be surprised," he thought, trying to syn- 
chronize the flow of his thoughts with the movement of the 
sleigh and lull himself to sleep. 

The other man was thinking about the purpose of their 
sudden departure, about the reception awaiting them at the 
other end, and about what should be done in the first in- 
stance. He also thought that Goltsev was asleep, not suspect- 
ing that Goltsev was wide-awake and that it was he himself 
who was asleep, plunging in his dreams from pothole to pot- 
hole together with his thoughts about revolution, which now, 
as once before, meant more to him than his fur coat and his 
belongings, more than his wife and child, more than his own 
life and more than other peoples' lives, and with which he 
would not part for anything in the world — even in his sleep 
— once he had laid hold of them and kindled them within 

Their eyes opened languidly, of their own accord. They 
could not help their surprise. A village lay in a deep other- 
worldly trance. The snow glittered. The three horses had 
broken file, they had left the road and stood huddled to- 
gether. The night was bright and still. The front horse, its 
head raised, was gazing over a snowdrift at something left far 
behind. The moon shone black and mysterious behind a 
house tightly swathed in frosty air. After the solemnity of the 
forest and the blizzard-swept loneliness of the open country 
a human dwelling was like an apparition in a fairy tale. The 
house seemed conscious of its awesome magic and was in no 
hurry to answer the coachman's knock. It stood silent, unwill- 
ing to break its own oppressive spell. The snow glittered. But 
soon two voices, unseen to each other, spoke loudly through 

8 ] Boris Pasternak 

the gate. They divided the whole world between them, these 
two, as they talked to each other through the timbers, in the 
midst of infinite stillness. The man who was opening the gate 
took the half which looked north, unfolding beyond the roof 
of the house, and the other man, who was waiting for him, 
took the half which the horse could see over the edge of the 

At the previous station Gimazetdin had wakened only 
Kovalevsky, and the coachman who had driven them to this 
point was a stranger to Goltsev. But now he immediately rec- 
ognized Dementi Mekhanoshin to whom he had once issued 
a certificate in his office — a good sixty miles from here — to 
the effect that, being the owner of a troika and plying the last 
stage between Bilyar and Syuginsk, he was working for 

It was odd to think that he had certified this house and its 
coachyard and that, knowing nothing at all of them, he had 
underwritten this magic village and the starry night above it. 
Later, while the horses were being reharnessed and the 
sleepy wife of the coachman gave them tea; while the clock 
ticked and they tried to make conversation, and bugs crawled 
sultrily over calendars and portraits of crowned persons; 
while bodies sleeping on the benches snored and wheezed 
fitfully like clockwork devices of different systems, Dementi 
kept going out and returning, and each time his appearance 
changed, depending on what he had taken down from a nail 
or dragged from under his bed. When he came in the first 
time to tell his wife to give the gentlemen sugar and to get 
out the white bread for them, he was wearing a smock and 
looked like a hospitable peasant; the second time, coming in 
for the reins, he was a laborer dressed in a short Siberian 
jacket, and finally he appeared as a coachman in a heavy fur 
coat. Without coming in, he leaned through the doorway and 
said that the horses were ready, that it was past three in the 
morning and time for them to leave. Then, pushing open the 
door with the stock of his whip, he went into the dark world 
outside which reverberated loudly at his first steps. 


The rest of the journey left no trace in their memories. It 
was getting light when Goltsev woke and his countryside was 
covered in a haze. An endless, straggling convoy of sleighs 
was lumbering by in a cloud of steam. They were overtaking 
it, and it looked therefore as though the timber-loaded sleighs 
were creaking and swaying without moving forward and that 
the drivers were just marking time, stomping their feet on the 
ground to keep warm. The broad cart road ran to one side of 
the track over which they were racing and it was a much 
higher level. Legs rose and fell, trampling the still, lit stars, 
and there was a movement of hands, horses' muzzles, cowled 
heads, and sleighs. It seemed as though the gray and weary 
suburban morning was itself drifting over the clear sky in 
great damp patches toward the place where it sensed the rail- 
road, the brick walls of factory buildings, heaps of damp coal, 
and the drudgery of fumes and smoke. The sleigh raced on, 
flying over ruts and potholes, its bell jingling frantically. 
There was still no end to the convoy and it was high time for 
the sun to rise, but the sun was still far away. 

The sun was still far away. They would see it only after 
another five versts, after a short stop at the inn, after the mes- 
sage from the factory director and the long restless wait in 
his anteroom. 

Then it appeared. It entered the manager's office with 
them, flooded rapidly over the carpet, settled behind the 
flowerpots, and smiled at the caged chaffinches by the win- 
dow, at the fir trees outside, at the stove, and at all forty-four 
volumes of the leather-bound Brockhaus encyclopedia. 

After this, during Kovalevsky's conversation with the man- 
ager, the yard outside was alive and at play, tirelessly scatter- 
ing turquoise and amber, wafts of pungent resin from the 
sweating pines and beads of molten hoarfrost. 

The manager glanced toward Goltsev. "He's my friend," 
said Kovalevsky quickly. "Don't worry, you can talk freely. 
... So you knew Breshkovskaya?" 2 

2 One of the founders of the Social Revolutionary party. 

10 ] Boris Pasternak 

Suddenly Kovalevsky got up and, turning to Goltsev, 
shouted in panic: "And what about my papers? Just as I said! 
Kostya, now what shall I do?" 

Goltsev didn't at first understand: "I've got our pass- 
ports. . . ." 

"That bundle of papers!" Kovalevsky interrupted him an- 
grily. "I asked you to remind me." 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Yura. We left them behind. It really is too 
bad of me. I can't think how I . . ." 

Their host, a short thickset man who had difficulty with 
his breathing, attended in the meantime to his managerial 
business. He kept looking at his watch and, puffing and blow- 
ing, stirred the logs in the stove with a poker. Sometimes, as 
though changing his mind about something, he would sud- 
denly stop in his tracks halfway across the room, swivel 
around, and dart over to the desk at which Kovalevsky was 
writing to his brother: . . . "in other words, all is well. I 
only hope it goes on like this. Now for the most important 
thing. Do exactly as I tell you. Kostya says that we left a bun- 
dle with all my illegal stuff lying on Masha's suitcase in the 
hall. Open it up and if there are any manuscripts among the 
pamphlets ( memoirs, notes on the scope of the organization, 
letters in code relating to the secret rendezvous in our house, 
to the period of Kulisher's escape, etc. ) wrap it all up, seal it, 
and send it to me in Moscow at the office in Teploryadnaya 
with the first reliable person — depending of course on how 
things work out. But you know what to do as well as I do and 
if there is a change of . . ." 

"Do come and have some coffee," whispered the manager 
with a shuffle and a click of the heels. "I mean you, young 
man," he explained to Goltsev with even greater care and 
paused respectfully at the sight of Kovalevsky 's cuff which 
was poised over the paper, waiting to pounce on the needed 

Three Austrian prisoners of war went past the window, 
talking and blowing their noses. They carefully walked 
around the puddles which had formed. 


"... if there is a change of climate," Kovalevsky found 
the word he needed, "don't send the papers to Moscow, but 
hide them in a safe place. I'm counting on you for this and all 
other things we agreed on. We have to catch the train soon. 
I'm dead tired. We hope to have a good sleep in the train. 
I'm writing to Masha separately. Well, all the best. P.S. Just 
imagine, it turns out that R., the manager, is an old Social- 
Revolutionary. What do you make of that?" 

At this moment Goltsev looked into the office with a slice 
of buttered bread in his hand. Swallowing the half -chewed 
piece he had just bitten off, he said: "You're writing to Misha, 
are you? Tell him to send," he took another bite at his bread 
and butter and continued chewing and swallowing, "my 
papers as well. I've changed my mind. Don't forget, Yura. 
And come and have some coffee." 


l^amyatin was one of those few Soviet writers who refused to 
make compromises or rationalizations in the face of the inherent 
moral evil of the Soviet dictatorship. Had other Soviet intellec- 
tuals followed his (and Pasternak's) example it is possible that 
Stalin would not have obtained his ascendancy over the nation in 

Before the revolution Zamyatin was a member of the Bolshe- 
vik faction of the Social Democratic Party. In a short autobio- 
graphical sketch published in 1925, he ended with the words: 
"Then 1 was a Bolshevik, now I am not a Bolshevik.'' Like Gorky 
he had recoiled from Lenin's premature assumption of supreme 
power; but unlike Gorky, Zamyatin did not subsequently come 
to terms with the fait accompli. His novel We, published in 
Prague in 1924, a forerunner of Orwell's 1984, foresaw the hor- 
rors to come. In "On Literature, Revolution, and Entropy," pub- 
lished in Moscow in 1924 and again in 1926, he defiantly asserted 
the need for heresy in literature as the very condition of its ex- 
istence. When, in 1929, he was framed together with PUnyak, he 
refused to submit, and, apparently with the assistance of Gorky, 
was able to emigrate to Paris where he died in 1937. Translation 
by Walter N. Vickery. 


On Literature, Revolution, 
and Entropy 

Tell me what is the final integer, the one at the very top, 
the biggest of all. 

But that's ridiculous! Since the number of integers is in- 
finite, how can you have a final integer? 


Well then how can you have a final revolution? There is 
no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite. 

— Evgeni Zamyatin, We 

Ask the question point-blank: What is revolution? You get a 
variety of replies. Some people will answer in the style of 
Louis XIV: La revolution, cest nous. Others turn to the 
calendar, giving you the day and the month. Still others spell 
it out letter by letter. But if we go one stage beyond the al- 
phabet and articulate our answer, this is what we get: 

Two dead, dark stars collide with a deafening but unhearcP) A 
crash and spark into life a new star: that's revolution. A mole- s 
cule breaks loose from its orbit, invades a neighboring atomic \ 
universe, and gives birth to a new chemical element: that's 
revolution. With one book Lobachevsky 1 cleaves the cen- 
turies-old walls of the Euclidean world and opens the way 
to the infinities of non-Euclidean space: that's revolution. 

Revolution is everywhere and in all things; it is infinite, 
there is no final revolution, no end to the sequence of integers. 
Social revolution is only one in the infinite sequence of in- 
tegers. The law of revolution is not a social law, it is immeas- 
urably greater, it is a cosmic, universal law — such as the law 
of the conservation of energy and the law of the loss of energy 
(entropy). Some day an exact formula will be established 
for the law of revolution. And in this formula nations, classes, 
stars — and books will be expressed as numerical values. 

Red, fiery, death-dealing is the law of revolution; but that 
death is the birth of a new life, of a new star. And cold, blue 
as ice, as the icy interplanetary infinities, is the law of en- 
tropy. The flame turns from fiery red to an even, warm pink, 
no longer death-dealing but comfort-producing; the sun ages 
and becomes a planet suitable for highways, shops, beds, 
prostitutes, prisons: that is a law. And in order to make the 


1 Nikolai Lobachevsky (1793-1856), Russian mathematician who pioneered 
non-Euclidean geometry. 

14 ] Evgeni Zamyatin 

planet young again, we must set it afire, we must thrust it 
off the smooth highway of evolution: that is a law. 

The flame, true enough, will grow cold tomorrow or the 

day after tomorrow (in the Book of Genesis days are years 

and even aeons). But already today there should be some- 

m^ body who can foresee that; there should be somebody today 

<C to speak heretically of tomorrow. Heretics are the only ( bit- 

s r ter-tasting) remedy for the entropy of human thought. 

V_ When ( in science, religion, social life, art) a flaming, seeth- 

\ ing sphere grows cold, the fiery molten rock becomes covered 

with dogma — with a hard, ossified, immovable crust. In 


science, religion, social life, and art, dogmatization is the 
entropy of thought; what has been dogmatized no longer 
inflames, it is merely warm — and soon it is to be cool. The - 
sermon on the Mount, delivered beneath the scorching sun to 
upstretched arms and rending sobs, gives way to slumberous 
prayer in some well-appointed abbey. Galileo's tragic "E pur 
si muove" gives way to calm calculations in some well-heated 
office in an observatory. On the Galileos the epigones build 
— slowly, coral upon coral, forming a reef: this is the path of 
evolution. Till one day a new heresy explodes and blows up 
the dogma's crust, together with all the ever so stable, rock- 
like structures that had been erected on it. 

Explosions are not comfortable things. That is why the ex- 
ploders, the heretics, are quite rightly annihilated by fire, by 
axes, and by words. Heretics are harmful to everybody to- 
day, to every evolution, to the difficult, slow, useful, so very 
useful, constructive process of coral reef building; impru- 
dently and foolishly they_l eap into today fro m tomorrow. 
They are romantics. It was right and proper that in 1797 Ba- 
beuf 2 had his head cut off: he had leaped into 1797, skipping 
one hundred and fifty years. It is equally right and proper 
that heretical literature, literature that is damaging to dogma, 

2 Frangois Babeuf (1760-1797), French revolutionary who demanded a 
program of egalitarianism and practical socialism after the Thermidorian 
reaction. He was executed for plotting to overthrow the government by force. 




should also have its head cut off: such literature is harmful. 
But harmful literature is more useful than useful literature: 
because it is anti-entropic, it militates against calcification, 
sclerosis, encrustedness, moss, peace. It is Utopian and ridicu- 
lous. Like Babeuf in 1797 it is right one hundred and fifty 
years later. 

We know Darwin, we know that after Darwin came mu- » 
tations, Weismannism, neo-Lamarckism. But these are only^ Aj ^ 4l T XMjiL/t 
penthouses and balconies while Darwin is the building itself. 
And the building contains not only tadpoles and toadstools, 
it also contains man. Fangs grow sharp only if there is some- 
one to gnaw on; the domestic hen's wings serve only to flap 
with. Ideas and hens obey the same law: ideas which feed 
on minced meat lose their teeth just as civilized men do. 
Heretics are necessary to health. If there are no heretics, 
they have to be invented. 

Live literature does not set its watch by yesterday's time, 
nor by today's, but by tomorrow's. Live literature is like a 
sailor who is sent aloft; from the masthead he can descry 
sinking vessels, icebergs, and maelstroms which are not yet 
visible from the deck. You can drag him down from the mast 
and put him to work in the boiler room or on the capstan, but 
that won't change a thing: the mast is still there and from 
the masthead another sailor will be able to see what the first 
sailor has seen. 

In stormy weather you need a man aloft. And right now 
the weather is stormy. SOS signals are coming in from all 
directions. Only yesterday the writer was able to stroll calmly 
on deck, taking snapshots of "real life"; but who wants to 
look at pictures of landscapes and scenes from daily life when 
the world has taken on a forty-five-degree list, when the green 
waves are threatening to swallow us and the ship is breaking 
up? Right now we can look and think only as men do in the 
face of death: we shall die — and what then? How have we 
lived? If we are to live all over again in some new way, then 

16 ] Evgeni Zamyatin 

by what shall we live, and for what? Right now we need in 
literature the vast philosophical horizon, the vast sweep from 
the masthead, from the sky above, we need the most ultimate, 
the most fearsome, the most fearless "Whys?" and "What 

Those are the questions that children ask. But children are 
after all the boldest of philosophers; they come into life 
naked, not covered by one single small leaf of dogma or 
creed. That is why their questions are always so ridiculously 
naive and so frighteningly complicated. The new people, 
who are right now coming into life, are naked and fearless 
as children, and they too, like children, like Schopenhauer, 
Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, are asking their "whys" and "what 
nexts." Philosophers of genius, children, and ordinary people 
are equally wise, because they ask equally stupid questions — 
stupid for civilized man who possesses a well-furnished apart- 
ment, with a magnificent bathroom, and a well-furnished 

'Organic chemistry has blurred the dividing line between 
living and dead matter. It is a mistake to divide people into 
the living and the dead: there are live-dead people and live- 
live people. The live-dead people also write, walk, talk, act. 
But they do not make mistakes; only machines produce with- 
out mistakes, but they produce only dead things. The live- 
live people are all mistakes, searchings, questions, torments. 
So too what we write also walks and talks, but it can be 
live-dead or live-live. The genuinely live, stopping at nothing, 
brooking no obstacle or hindrance, searches for the answers 
to foolish, "childish" questions. The answers may be wrong, 
the philosophy erroneous — but errors are of greater value 
than truths: truth is machinelike, error is alive, truth re- 
assures, error unsettles. And even if the answers are quite 
impossible, so much the better: to ask answered questions 
is the privilege of minds constructed on the same principle 


as the cow's stomach, which is ideally suited, as well we 
know, to chewing the cud. 

If there were in nature something fixed, if there were 
truths, all this would, of course, be wrong. But happily all 
truths are erroneous. This is precisely the significance of the 
dialectic process: today's truths become tomorrow's errors; 
there is no final integer. 

This (one and only) truth is only for the strong: weak- 
nerved minds unfailingly require a finite universe, a final 
integer; they require, as Nietzsche said, "the crutches of as- 
surance." The weak-nerved do not have the strength to in- 
clude themselves in the dialectic syllogism. True, this is 
difficult. But it is the very thing that Einstein did succeed 
in doing: he managed to remember that he, Einstein, with 
watch in hand observing motion, was also moving; he suc- 
ceeded in looking at the earth's movements from outside. 

That is precisely how great literature — literature that 
knows no final integer — looks at the earth's movements. 

The formal characteristic of live literature is the same as 
its inner characteristic: the negation of truth, that is, the 
negation of what everyone knows and what I knew up to 
this moment. Live literature leaves the canonical rails, leaves 
the broad highway. 

The broad highway of Russian literature, worn shiny by 
the giant wheels of Tolstoy, Gorky, Chekhov, is realism, real 
life: consequently we must turn away from real life. The 
rails, sanctified and canonized by Blok, Sologub, Bely, are 
the rails of symbolism — symbolism which turned away from 
real life: consequently we must turn toward real life. 

Absurd, isn't it? The intersection of parallel lines is also 
absurd. But it's absurd only in the canonical, plane geometry 
of Euclid; in non-Euclidian geometry it's an axiom. The one 
essential is to cease to be flat, to rise above the plane. Today's 
literature has the same relation to the plane surface of real 

18 ] Evgeni Zamyatin 

life as an aircraft has to the earth: it is nothing more than a 
runway from which to take off and soar aloft from real life 
to reality, to philosophy, to the realm of the fantastic. Leave 
the carts of yesterday to creak along the great highways. The 
living have strength enough to cut off their yesterdays. 

We can put a police officer or a commissar in the cart, but 
the cart will still remain a cart. And literature will still re- 
main the literature of yesterday, if we drive real life — even 
"revolutionary real life" — along the well-traveled highway — 
even if we drive it in a fast troika with bells. What we need 
today are automobiles, airplanes, winged flight, seconds, dot- 
ted lines. 

The old, slow, soporific descriptions are no more. The order 
of the day is laconicism — but every word must be super- 
charged, high-voltage. Into one second must be compressed 
what formerly went into a sixty-second minute. Syntax be- 
comes elliptical, volatile; complicated pyramids of periods 
are dismantled and broken down into the single stones of 
independent clauses. In swift movement the canonical, the 
habitual eludes the eye: hence the unusual, often strange 
symbolism and choice of words. The image is sharp, syn- 
thetic, it contains only the one basic trait which one has time 
to seize upon from a moving automobile. The l exicon hal- 
lowed by custom has been invaded by dialecj:, neologisms, 
science, mathematics, technology. 

There is a rule, if you can call it a rule, that the writer's 
talent consists in making the rule the exception; but there 
are far more writers who turn the exception into the rule. 

The business of science and art alike is the projection of 
the world onto co-ordinates. Differences in form are due to 
differences in the co-ordinates. All realist forms involve pro- 
jection onto the fixed, plane co-ordinates of the Euclidian 
world. These co-ordinates have no existence in nature. This 
finite, fixed world does not exist; it is a convention, an ab- 
straction, an unreality. And therefore realism — be it "so- 


cialist" or "bourgeois" — is unreal; immeasurably closer to 
reality is projection onto fast-moving, curved surfaces — as 
in the new mathematics and the new art. Realism which is 
not primitive, not realia but realiora, consists in displace- 
ment, distortion, curvature, nonobjectivity. The lens of the 
camera is objective. 

A new form is not intelligible to all; for many it is difficult. 
Maybe. The habitual, the banal is of course simpler, pleas- 1 
anter, more comfortable. Euclid's world is very simple and 
Einstein's world is very difficult; nevertheless it is now im- 
possible to return to Euclid's. No revolution, no heresy is 
comfortable and easy. Because it is a leap, it is a rupture off 
the smooth evolutionary curve, and a rupture is a wound, a' 
pain. But it is a necessary wound: most people suffer from I 
hereditary sleeping sickness, and those who are sick with 
this ailment ( entropy ) must not be allowed to sleep, or they 
will go to their last sleep, the sleep of death. 

This same sickness is common to artists and writers: they 
go contentedly to sleep in their favorite artistic form which 
they have devised, then twice revised. They do not have the 
strength to wound themselves, to cease to love what has 
become dear to them. They do not have the strength to 
come out from their lived-in, laurel-scented rooms, to come 
out into the open air and start anew. 

To wound oneself, it is true, is difficult, even dangerous. \ 
But to live today as yesterday and yesterday as today is even 
more difficult for the living. 


V ictor Shklovsky (b. 1893), together with Roman Jakobson, 
was the leader of the formalist movement, the most significant 
Russian contribution to the theory of literature. Formalism con- 
tinues to have considerable influence abroad, although, in Russia 
from the early thirties onwards, the very word "formalism" be- 
came a highly elastic term of abuse, and has often been wrong- 
fully applied to deviations from socialist realism. 

This excerpt from Shklovsky 's pamphlet Literature and Cin- 
ema, published in Berlin in 1923, is a concise expression of the 
formalist position. Translation by Charles A. Moser and Patricia 


Form and Material in Art 

It is usually thought to be obvious that every artist wishes 
to express something, to recount something, and that this 
"something" is called the content of a work. And the means 
by which this "something" is expressed — words, images, me- 
ter in verse, color and line in a painting — are called the 
form of the work. 

Nearly everybody distinguishes between these two aspects 
of every work of art. People who want art to be of direct 
benefit to humanity usually say that in art the most important 
thing is content, i.e. what is said in it. 

The so-called aesthetes, lovers of the beautiful, say that 
for them the important thing in art is "not what, but how," 
i.e. the main thing is form. Now let us calmly attempt, with- 


out becoming involved in this dispute, to look detachedly 
upon the object of the dispute. 

The problem concerns works of art. 

Let us begin with an analysis of musical compositions. 


A musical composition consists of a series of sounds of dif- 
ferent pitch and different timbre, i.e. of sounds high and 
low following one after the other. These sounds are combined 
into groups; the groups bear a certain relationship to one 
another. Besides this, there is nothing in a musical composi- 
tion. Now what have we found in it? We have found, not 
form and content, but rather material and form, i.e. sounds 
and the disposition of sounds. Of course there may be people 
who say that in music there is also content, namely a sad or 
a gay mood. But there are facts which show that there is 
contained in a musical composition neither sadness nor joy, 
that such feelings are not the essence of music, and that its 
creators set no store by them. Hanslick, a famous student of 
the theory of music, cites the example of how Bach wrote 
indecent couplets to music which he had composed for 
psalms; the music was just as suitable for the couplets. On 
the other hand, it is by no means rare for many sects to use 
dance tunes for their hymns. Moreover, to do this they had 
to overcome the traditional connection of these tunes with 
the normal circumstances of their performances. 

This is why Kant defined music as pure form, i.e. denied 
the existence of so-called content in it. 


Now let us look at the so-called graphic arts. This name is 
inaccurate and does not cover all phenomena involved. Dec- 
orative art obviously depicts nothing. But in European art 
at least the graphic arts usually depict the so-called external 
world, scenes of work, pictures of men and wild animals. 

22 ] Victor Shklovsky 

Scarcely anyone will dispute this, and moreover, we know 
from the artists themselves that when they paint flowers or 
grass or a cow, they are not interested in whether these have 
any practical use, but only in how they appear, i.e. in color 
and line. For the artist the external world is not the content 
of a picture, but material for a picture. The famous Renais- 
sance artist Giotto says: "A picture is — primarily — a con- 
junction of colored planes." The Impressionists painted things 
as though they saw them without understanding — only as 
spots of color. They perceived the world as if they had just 
suddenly awakened. This is how the Russian "Itinerant" 
artist Kramskoy 1 defined the effect made on him by the 
Impressionists' pictures. 

Another realistic painter, Surikov, 2 used to say that the 
"idea" of his famous picture "The Boyar's Wife, Morozova" 
occurred to him when he saw a jackdaw on the snow. For 
him this picture was primarily "black on white." To anticipate 
a little, I will say that Surikov's picture is not merely the 
development of his impression of a color contrast; in this 
picture we encounter a great many heterogeneous elements, 
particularly in relation to meaning, but even meanings are 
used as material for artistic construction. 

Thanks to such an attitude toward "representation," there 
is in art an inclination to transform depiction, so-called or- 
ganic forms, e.g. the outlines of a flower, a wild animal, grass, 
a ram's horn (as in Buryat designs), into an ornament — a 
design which no longer represents anything. . . . All rug de- 
signs, in particular the designs on Persian rugs, are the result 
of just such a transformation of organic form into purely 
artistic form. 

This transformation cannot be explained by religious pro- 
hibition (Islam avoids depiction out of "dread of idolatry"), 
since there exist, during all stages in the development of Per- 
sian tapestry, rugs depicting entire scenes involving people 
and animals. This shocks nobody. We have Persian miniatures 

1 Ivan Kramskoy ( 1837-1887), Russian painter of realistic portraits. 

2 Vasili Surikov ( 1848-1916), Russian realist painter. 


which, it would seem, were influenced just as much by re- 
ligious prohibitions as tapestry. On the other hand, we know 
that in Greece, where there were no religious prohibitions of 
this kind, a geometrical style developed (there is a vase in 
this style in the Petersburg Hermitage), and during this 
phase the way the human body was depicted vividly recalls 
the rendering of stylized deer in tapestry. 

The entire history of written languages illustrates the 
struggle between the ornamental principle and the repre- 
sentative principle. 

It is, moreover, curious to note that written languages at 
the first stages of their existence, and among many peoples, 
even to the present day (Turks, Persians), fulfilled decorative 

The divorce of the letter or ideograph from its conventional 
function is a result not only of the technique, but also of the 
stylization of writing. . . . The letter is an ornament. 

The artist clings to depiction, to the world, not in order to 
create a world, but rather to utilize complex and rewarding 
material in his art. This break with representation, this trans- 
formation of picture into calligraphy, occurs more than once 
in the history of art, but artists have always returned to rep- 

But the artist needs the world for his picture. There is a 
Greek anecdote about an artist: people came up to him at an 
exhibition and asked him to remove the cloth from his paint- 
ing. "I cannot do that," said the artist. "My painting depicts 
a painting covered with a cloth." In analyzing a painting, 
people who wish to go beyond its limits, who talk about de- 
mons in connection with Picasso, about war in connection 
with all of cubism, who wish to decipher paintings like a 
rebus, want to deprive a painting of its form in order to see 
it better. 

Paintings are not at all windows onto another world — 
they are things. 

24 ] Victor Shklovsky 


It is m literature that the view of the separation between form 
and content seems most plausible. 

And in fact, a great many people suppose that the poet pos- 
sesses a specific thought, a thought about God, for example, 
and expounds this thought in words. 

These words may be beautiful, and then we say that the 
work's form, sound-form or image-form, is beautiful. This is 
what most people think about form and content in litera- 

But first of all it cannot be affirmed that there is content in 
every work of art, since we know that in the first stages of 
its development poetry possessed no precise content. 

For instance, the songs of the Indians in British Guiana 
consist of the exclamation: "Hey a, heya." The songs of the 
Patagonians, the Papuans, and certain North American tribes 
are also senseless. Poetry appeared before content. 

The singer's task was not to render in words some thought 
or other, but to devise a series of sounds possessing a definite 
relationship one to another, which is called form. These 
sounds should not be confused with sounds in music. They 
have not only an acoustic but also an articulated form: they 
are produced by the singer's vocal organs. Perhaps in a prim- 
itive poem we are dealing not so much with an ejaculation 
as with an articulated gesture, a sort of ballet of the speech 
organs. Even in modern poetry, the act of speaking it may 
have, in varying degrees, the same sensuous effect on us — 
"the sweetness of verses on the lips.". . . 

A line of verse quite often appears in the poet's mind as a 
definite patch of sound not yet verbalized. . . . 

Alexander Blok used to tell me about this phenomenon as 
he had observed it in himself. 

Victor Hugo used to say that what was difficult was not 
finding a rhyme, but "filling the spaces between rhymes with 


poetry," i.e. fitting the "image" aspect to the already existing 
sound aspect. 

In short, the deeper we go into the study of verse, the more 
complex become the phenomena of form which we discover 
within it. 

But poems are formal throughout and it is unnecessary for 
us to change our methods of investigation. What is called 
the image aspect is also not intended to be depictive or ex- 

Potebnya's notion that the image is always simpler than 
the concept it replaces is absolutely incorrect. 

There is a line in one of Tyutchev's poems saying that 
flashes of heat lightning are "like deaf and dumb demons 
conversing with each other." Why is the image of the deaf 
and dumb demons simpler or more obvious than the lightning 

In erotic poetry we generally find that erotic objects are 
designated by various "image" names. The "Song of Songs" 
is an extended series of such comparisons. Here we are deal- 
ing not so much with imagery as with what I call "estrange- 
ment," in the sense of making things strange. 

We live in a poor and enclosed world. We no more feel 
the world in which we live than we feel the clothes we wear. 
We fly through the world like Jules Verne characters, 
"through outer space in a capsule." But in our capsule there 
are no windows. 

The Pythagoreans used to say that we do not hear the 
music of the spheres because it goes on uninterruptedly. In 
the same way those who live by the sea do not hear the 
noise of the waves. We do not hear even the words we speak. 
We speak a pitiful language of incompletely uttered words. 
We look one another in the face but do not see one another. 

26 ] Victor Shklovsky 

The Renovation of Form 

In his diary, Tolstoy wrote "... I dusted off the sofa and 
couldn't remember doing it. . . . So if I did dust it off, I did 
it unconsciously. ... If someone had seen it consciously he 
could have reconstructed my action. . . . And our entire 
life, lived through unconsciously, is all as if it had never 

Perhaps mankind began using reason too early. With its 
reason it jumped forward out of turn, like a soldier from the 
ranks, and began running amok. 

We live as if coated with rubber. We must recover the 
world. Perhaps all the horror (which is little felt) of our 
days, the Entente, the war, Russia, can be explained by our 
lack of feeling for the world, by the absence of an extensive 
art. The purpose of the image is to call an object by a new 
name. To do this, to make the object an artistic fact, it must 
be abstracted from among the facts of life. 

To do this, we must first of all "shake up" things. . . . We 
must rip things from their ordinary sequence of associations. 
Things must be turned over like logs in a fire. . . . 

The poet removes the labels from things. . . . Things 
rebel, casting off their old names and taking on a new aspect 
together with their new names. The poet brings about a 
semantic dislocation, he snatches the concept out of the se- 
quence in which it is usually found and transfers it with the 
aid of the word (the trope) to another meaning-sequence. 
And now we have a sense of novelty at finding the object 
in a fresh sequence. 

This is one of the ways of making things tangible. In the 
image we have the object, the recollection of its former 
name, its new name, and the associations connected with the 
new name. . . . 

One device in modern artistic prose is very curious. To 
create an unusual perception of things in modern prose there 


is a widely used device which has never been described and 
which I would define as the "recurrent image." In Russian 
literature it is represented by Dostoevsky, Rozanov, Andrei 
Bely, Zamyatin and also by the Serapion brothers. It consists 
in using a certain word ( usually such a word is "orchestrated" 
by means of repetition or else an exotic word is chosen ) and 
then equating all the other matter in the work of art to 
this word. . . . 

Andrei Bely in his reminiscences of Blok (Epopeya, book 
2) notes that Merezhkovsky wore shoes with pompons on 
them. These "pompons" rapidly come to define Merezhkov- 
sky's entire life. He speaks with pompons, he thinks with 
pompons, etc. In this case we seem to have a certain mech- 
anization of the imagery device. 

The word deprived of sense is constantly associated with 
a number of other words, which are thus removed from the 
way they are usually perceived. I cannot trace the history of 
this device outside Russian literature, but I think that per- 
haps Dostoevsky borrowed it from Dickens, who was a great 
devotee of it. 

In Little Dorrit the governess Mrs. General advises the 
young ladies in her charge, to give a pretty shape to their 
lips, to constantly pronounce "prunes and prisms/' 

For Dickens these "prunes and prisms" soon become a dis- 
tinct condition of the newly rich Dorrits' life. 

Dickens writes of "the heaps of prunes and prisms" which 
had filled the Don-its' life to overflowing. In Our Mutual 
Friend the same use is made of the conversations about lime, 
with which at first the detectives concealed their real inten- 
tions, but which later became for them a sort of game. . . . 

It seems clear to me that for a writer words are not at all 
a sad necessity, not just a means by which something is said, 
but are rather the very material of the work. Literature is 
created from words and takes advantage of the laws by 
which they are governed. 

It is true that in a work of literature we also have the ex- 

28 ] Victor Shklovsky 

pression of ideas, but it is not a question of ideas clothed in 
artistic form, but rather artistic form created from ideas as 
its material. 

In verse, rhyme is opposed to rhyme, the sounds of one 
word are connected by repetitions with the sounds of another 
word and form the sound-aspect of the poem. 

In parallelism, image is opposed to image and forms the 
image-aspect of the work. 

In the novel, thought is opposed to thought, or one group 
of characters to another, and this constitutes the meaning- 
form of the work. 

Thus in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina the Karenin-Vronsky 
group is opposed to the Kitty-Levin group. 

It was this that entitled Tolstoy to say that he had no use 
for "those sweet and clever little fellows who fish out individ- 
ual ideas from a work," and that "if I had wanted to say in 
one word everything that the novel was intended to express, 
then I should have had to write the novel all over again, and 
if my critics understand it and can put down in a review 
everything I meant, then I congratulate them and can say 
without hesitation that they are capable of much more than 

In a work of literature it is not the idea that is important 
but the way ideas are combined. Again I quote from Tolstoy: 
"the combination itself is made not by means of thought (I 
think ) , but by something else, and it is impossible to express 
directly the basis for this combination. It can, however, be 
expressed indirectly by the description of images, actions, 
situations in words." 

Consequently, the ideas in a literary work do not constitute 
its content but rather its material, and in their combination 
and interrelations with other aspects of the work they create 
its form. 


A peasant's son and former shepherd, Esenin was at first an en- 
thusiast of the Bolshevik Revolution. He saw in it the coming of 
the bucolic, democratic Utopia of which he dreamed in his early 
lyrics. But the terrible reality of the Civil War and industrializa- 
tion in Soviet Russia soon bewildered the "peasant poet." Pro- 
foundly self-destructive in temperament, Esenin yielded to an 
almost continuous orgy of liquor and high living. His love 
affairs, his broken marriages — to Isadora Duncan, among others 
— and his extravagant escapades made headlines in Berlin, Paris, 
and New York. In 1924, he made a final attempt to accommo- 
date himself to the Soviet world; he returned from abroad to his 
native village. The experience was hardly a success, as "Soviet 
Russia" the poem he wrote after his trip, suggests. A year later, 
the thirty -year-old Esenin cut his wrists and hanged himself. 

Although Esenins verse was scarcely published during the 
Stalin era, he remains one of the most popular poets among 
Russians of all ages. Translation by George Reavey. 


Soviet Russia 

That hurricane swept past. But few of us survived. 
Renewing friendship's ties, we found many missing. 
Again I turned my steps toward my orphaned birthplace, 
Where I had set no foot for some eight years. 

Whom shall I call? Share now with whom 
The grievous joy of being still alive? 
Here even the windmill — a bird of wooden beams 
With just one wing — still stands, cross-eyed. 

30 ] Sergei Esenin 

To everyone here I am a stranger, 
And those who knew me once have now forgotten. 
A heap of ashes layered with roadside dust 
Lies where my father's house once stood. 

Yet life is seething. 

Faces throng 

Around me, young and old. 

But no one's here to whom I'd raise my hat, 

Not one whose eyes would give me refuge. 

A swarm of thoughts sweeps through my mind: 

My native land — yes, what is that? 

Is it just a dream? 

For here I'm merely a frowning pilgrim, 

Issued God knows whence . . . 

So this is I! 

I, citizen of this village, 

Whose only claim to fame will be 

That, in this place, a peasant woman bore 

A rowdy Russian poet. 

But the voice of thought enjoins the heart: 

"Think twice! Why feel the hurt? 

It is the new light burning 

Of another generation in the huts. 

You're past your prime already: 

Other youths sing other songs. 

They may be more interesting — 

The earth, not just this village, is their mother." 

Ah, native place! What a misfit I've become. 
A dry flush colors my sunken cheeks. 
My fellows' idiom sounds so alien, 
And I feel a foreigner in my land. 


• • • 

I see before me 

Villagers in Sunday best 

Transact a meeting as if attending church. 

In clumsy, unwashed speeches 

They debate their "life." 

Evening's here. The sunset sprayed 

The graying fields with thin veneer of gilt. 

Like calves that huddle beneath a gate, 

The poplars thrust bare feet into the ditches. 

Wrinkling his reminiscent forehead, 

A lame Red Army man with drowsy face 

Grandly expatiates upon Budyonny 

And the Reds who captured Perekop 1 by storm. 

"We gave them hell, we did — this way and that — 
That bourgeois . . . the one ... in the Crimea . . ." 
The maples wrinkle the ears of their long branches, 
While the peasant women groan into the silent dusk. 

Then a band of peasant Komsomols descends the hill 
And, bawling furiously to the accordion, 
Sing Demyan Bedny's agit-verse, 2 
Drowning the valley with their lusty shouts. 

What a land! 

Whatever made me shout 

In verse that I was the people's friend? 

My poetry is not needed here, 

And I myself, perhaps, unwanted too. 

But never mind! 

Forgive me, my native place! 

I am content with what I did for you. 

1 Scene of Bolshevik victory against White armies during the Civil War. 

2 Propaganda poetry by the ultra-'proletarian" versifier of the twenties. 

32 ] Sergei Esenin 

This day they need not sing my verse — 

I did my singing when my native land was sick. 

Ill take what comes. 

Accept things as they are. 

I'm ready to follow in their steps. 

To October and May I'll offer up my soul, 

But never surrender my beloved lyre. 

I will not pass it on to alien hands — 
Not even to my mother, friend, or wife. 
The lyre to me alone its sounds entrusted, 
And sang its gentle songs to me alone. 

Flourish, young people! Strong in your bodies growl 

Your life is different, and so is your refrain. 

But I, to a bourne unknown, shall go alone, 

And for a rebel soul find lasting peace. 

But even when, 

Upon this whole wide planet, 

An end is put to all the enmity of peoples, 

And sorrow and falsehood thrive no more, 

I still shall praise in song, 

With all my poet's being, 

This sixth part of the earth, 

Which bears the name of Russia. 


In Paustovsky's reminiscences (entitled A Time of Great Expec- 
tations), published in 1960 in Moscow, the novelist tells of his 
early life in Kiev, where he was born in 1892, and of the small 
but vivid literary world of Odessa in the first years after the Revo- 
lution. This excerpt (the original text has been cut here and there 
by the editors) about his friend, Isaac Babel, is noteworthy 
for its warm sympathy for Jews. Although Paustovsky himself 
is of mixed Polish and Cossack origin, he is one of those Soviet 
intellectuals who have recently gone out of their way to try and 
counter anti-Semitic trends in the Soviet Union. In 1956, Paus- 
tovsky courageously defended Dudintsevs Not by Bread Alone 
at a stormy meeting of the Moscow Union of Writers. In this 
connection, he spoke out against the philistinism and anti-Semi- 
tism of the kind of bureaucrat depicted in Dudintsevs novel. In 
recent years, Paustovsky has been one of the most forthright 
champions of a more reasonable and liberal approach to litera- 
ture. Translation by Andrew R. Mac Andrew. 


Reminiscences of Babel 

I Can Guarantee You Maupassants 

An issue of The Seaman carried a short story entitled "The 
King." It was signed: I. Babel. 

The story was about the chieftain of the Odessa bandits, 
Benzion Krik (better known as Benya Krik), forcibly marry- 
ing off his faded sister Dvoirah to a puny, whimpering thief. 
The thief was only marrying Dvoirah out of intolerable fear 
of Benya. 

34 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

This was one of Babel's first Moldavanka 1 stories. . . . 
The piece was written tersely and precisely. It hit you in 
the face like seltzer. Ever since I was a boy, I have felt 
that certain literary works were a form of witchcraft. 
After I had read "The King," I knew that a new sorcerer had 
entered Russian literature and that whatever this man was 
to write it would never be feeble or colorless. . . . 

Babel was brought into the editorial offices of The Sea- 
man by Izya Lif shits and I don't believe I had ever met a 
man who looked less like a writer than Babel. His shoulders 
were hunched, he had no neck to speak of as a result of 
the hereditary Odessa asthma; his nose looked like a duck's 
bill; his brow was deeply furrowed and there was an oily 
gleam in his eyes. Not interesting at all, he could easily 
have been taken for a traveling salesman or a dealer. But, 
of course, only until he opened his mouth. The very first 
words changed everything. A persistent irony was heard in 
the fine ring of his voice. 

Many people were unable to look at his burning eyes. 
By nature Babel was a debunker. He loved to catch people 
off balance and this gave him a reputation all over Odessa 
for being a difficult and dangerous man. 

Babel arrived in our office carrying a volume of Kipling 
under his arm. When he talked to our chief editor, Ivanov, 
he put the book down on the table. But he kept looking 
at it impatiently, even carnivorously, as he shifted rest- 
lessly in his chair, getting up and sitting down again. He 
was visibly on edge. He was longing to read instead of con- 
ducting a polite conversation. 

At the first opportunity, Babel switched the conversation 
to Kipling. Writers, he said, should write in Kipling's iron- 
clad prose; authors should have the clearest possible notion 
of what was to come out of their pens. A short story must 
have the precision of a military communique or a bank 
check. It must be written in the same firm, straightforward 

1 The Moldavanka was the bandits' and thieves' district of Odessa. 


hand one uses for commands and checks. Kipling's hand 
was just like that. 

Babel concluded his remarks on Kipling with a quite un- 
expected statement. As he made it, he removed his glasses, 
which immediately made his face look kind and helpless. 

"Here in Odessa," he said, with a mocking glint in his 
eyes, "we won't produce any Kiplings. We like a peaceful, 
easy life. But to make up for it, we'll have our home-grown 
Maupassants. That's because we have plenty of sea, sun, 
beautiful women, food for thought. Yes, we'll have our Mau- 
passants, that I can guarantee." 

I looked out of the window to watch Babel leave our 
building, his shoulders hunched, and walk off along the 
shady side of the street. He walked very slowly and, the 
moment he was out in the street, opened his Kipling and 
started reading as he went. Now and then he stopped to 
give passers-by a chance to go around him, but he never 
once raised his head to look at them. 

And the people in the street did avoid bumping into him. 
Some stared, rather bewildered, but they didn't say a word. 
Soon he disappeared in the shade of the plane trees whose 
velvety foliage quivered in the liquid Black Sea air. 

Later, I often met Babel in town. He was never alone. 
What we called the "Odessa literary boys" hung around him 
like flies. They caught up his witticisms and immediately 
spread them all over Odessa. He sent them off on all sorts of 
errands, which they carried out without a murmur. If one 
of them was not zealous enough, Babel would tell him off 
sharply, and when he got tired of them, he chased them 
away mercilessly. But the harsher Babel was with them, the 
more the literary boys liked it; the objects of Babel's ire 
seemed to thrive on it. But it was not only the literary boys 
for whom Babel was a god. Older writers too — there were 
several in Odessa at that time — as well as young Odessan 
writers and poets had great respect for him. At that time 
he was, for us, the first really Soviet writer. . . . 

I came into close contact with him toward the end of the 

36 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

summer. He was living at Fontan. Izya Lifshits and I had 
rented a dilapidated little summer cabin there, not far from 
Babel's. . . . 

I saw a lot of him. Sometimes we spent the whole day to- 
gether on the beach, fishing with homemade nets and listen- 
ing to Babel's leisurely stories. There was real genius in the 
way he told things. When he told a story, it sounded even 
stronger, even more flawless than when it was written. He 
was very fond of talking about Gorky, about the Revolution, 
and about how he had lived in the Anichkov Palace in Peters- 
burg where he slept on a couch in Alexander Ill's study. 
One day he had looked into a drawer of the Czar's desk and 
found a box of magnificent cigarettes, a gift to the Czar 
from the Turkish Sultan, Abdul-Hamid. 

These fat cigarettes were rolled in pink paper with a 
gilded arabesque design. With an air of mystery Babel gave 
one cigarette each to Izya and to me. Their delicate odor 
was wafted over Fontan. Immediately we both got terrible 
headaches and for a whole hour staggered around like 
drunks, groping our way along the stone walls as we 

It was at this time that Babel told me the strange story 
of Cires, a meek old Jew. 

Babel had moved to the center of the Moldavanka dis- 
trict, renting a room in the apartment where Cires lived with 
his gloomy, slow-moving wife, Hava. He had decided to 
write a few stories which would be situated in this Odessa 
suburb, notorious for its racy way of life. Babel was at- 
tracted by the peculiar and unquestionably talented bandits, 
like Mishka Yaponchik ( Mike The Jap, or the Benya Krik of 
his stories) who was already a living legend. The dreary 
Cires apartment was as good a place as any from which 
Babel could study life in the Moldavanka. 

Steadfast as a rock, it was an island among the stormy, 
raucous dives and the deceptively respectable apartments 
with their crocheted doilies and seven-branched silver can- 


delabra on the chests of drawers — places where, under their 
parents' roofs, the robbers could find refuge. 

All around Cires' apartment one felt the presence of dar- 
ing, armed young men. 

Babel explained to Cires that his purpose was to study the 
Moldavanka district. The old man did not like it at all. In 
fact, he grew quite worried. 

"Oi, Mister Babel!" he said, shaking his head. "Think of 
it: you're the son of such a well-known papa. And your 
mamma, she was a real beauty too. I even heard that none 
other than the nephew of Brodsky himself asked for her 
hand. So you can see that the Moldavanka is no place for 
you, whatever kind of a writer you may be. You'd better 
forget the Moldavanka for, I promise you, no good'll come of 
it, and if you earn anything at all, it will be a pocketful of 

"What trouble?" Babel asked. 

"Do I know what trouble?" Cires said, dodging the point. 
"Who knows what nightmares a man like, say, Five-Rubles 
can dream up? And I'm not talking about bullies like Luska 
Kur and the rest of them. No, Mister Babel, the best thing 
you can do is go back to your papa's house on Ekaterinskaya 
Street. And I tell you frankly, I'm sorry already that I 
rented you that room. But then, how could I possibly say 
no to such a nice young man?" 

Sometimes, from his room, Babel heard Hava nagging at 
her husband in an angry whisper for renting the room to 
him and letting a stranger into the house. 

"What will you get out of it, you skinflint? Perhaps an- 
other hundred thousand? 2 But then he'll make you lose your 
best customers. . . ." 

The nights in the Moldavanka seemed long. The bleary 
light of a distant street-lamp fell on the shabby wallpaper 
that had a vinegary smell. Often from the street came the 

2 There was galloping inflation at that time. 

38 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

sound of businesslike steps, a shrill whistle, and once even 
an actual gunshot followed by hysterical female laughter. 
The sound came through the brick wall and seemed to be 
sealed into it at once. 

He longed to go back to Ekaterinskaya Street. There, be- 
hind the thick walls of his apartment of the fourth floor, it 
was quiet, dark, and safe, and the manuscript of his latest 
story, corrected and rewritten dozens of times, lay on the 

Babel would go up to his desk and stroke his manuscript 
cautiously as though it were a wild creature which had still 
not been properly domesticated. Often he would get up dur- 
ing the night and reread three or four pages by the light of 
an oil lamp against which he propped an enormous en- 
cyclopedia as a shade. He would always find a few unneces- 
sary words and throw them out with malicious glee. He 
used to say, "Your language becomes clear and strong, not 
when you can no longer add a sentence, but when you can 
no longer take away from it." 

Everybody who saw Babel at work, particularly at night 
(and this was difficult because he always hid himself away 
to write), was struck by his sad face and his peculiar ex- 
pression of kindness and sorrow. 

Babel would have given a great deal during those barren 
nights in the Moldavanka to be able to return to his manu- 
scripts. But as a writer he felt like a soldier on reconnais- 
sance patrol and thought that in the name of literature he 
had to endure everything: the loneliness, the stench of the 
extinguished kerosene lamp that caused bad fits of asthma, 
the sobs and cries of women behind the walls of the houses. 
No, he couldn't give up. 

One night it suddenly occurred to Babel that Cires must 
be a finger man. That was how he made his living. He re- 
ceived a cut for his services and that was why Babel was 
such an inconvenient lodger for the old man. He was liable 
to scare off the old man's daring but cautious clients. . . . 

Now Babel finally understood Cires' hints about his 


pocketful of troubles and made up his mind to leave in a 
few days. He needed a little time to worm out of the old 
finger man everything of interest he could tell him; Babel 
knew he had a genius for finding everything out about 
people, for "gutting" them mercilessly and persistently, or, 
as they used to say in Odessa, for "knocking their souls right 
out of them/' 

But on this occasion Babel was too late. One day, while 
Babel was out, Cires was stabbed to death in his apart- 

When Babel returned to the Moldavanka he found the 
militia all over the place and, in his room, the inspector in 
person, sitting at his desk writing a report. He was a polite 
young man in blue twill riding breeches. His ambition was 
to become a writer too. His attitude to Babel was therefore 

"I must request," he told Babel, "that you remove your 
things immediately and leave this house. Otherwise I will be 
unable to guarantee your personal safety even during the 
next twenty-four hours. You must understand that this is 
the Moldavanka!" 

And Babel fled, shuddering at the hoarse howls of Hava, 
who called down all sorts of curses on Senka's head, and 
on everyone who had, in her opinion, been involved in Cires' 
murder. . . . 

"May Semyon," she shouted, swaying and sobbing and 
calling Senka by his full name on this occasion, "may he 
drink vodka mixed with rat poison and croak on his vomit! 
And may feet trample to death his mother, the old viper 
Miriam who gave birth to this hellhound and satan! May all 
the Moldavanka boys sharpen their knives and cut him to 
shreds for twelve days and twelve nights! I wish, Senka, you 
may burn in a slow flame and burst in your own boiling fat!" 

Soon after, Babel learned all the details of Cires' death. It 
appeared that Cires himself was to blame and therefore not 
a soul in all the Moldavanka, except Hava, was sorry for 
him. Not a soul! The fact was that Cires had proved to be 

40 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

a dishonest old man and, hence, no power on earth could 
have saved him. This is what had happened: the day be- 
fore his death, Cires went to see Senka Flop-Ears. 

Senka was shaving before a magnificent mirror in an or- 
nate frame. He squinted at Cires and said: 

"So you've got yourself mixed up with a stranger, haven't 
you, Mister Cires? Congratulations! And now, you know 
the new Soviet law: if you come to see a man while he's 
shaving, state your business quickly and beat it. I give you 
ten words to explain what brings you here, like in the tele- 
graph office. For every extra word, I'll reduce your commis- 
sion by two hundred thousand rubles." 

"You were born, maybe, making such bad jokes, Senka?" 
Cires said with a sugary smile. "Or maybe it came with prac- 
tice? What do you think . . . ?" 

"Come on, tell me what you've come for, you old clown," 
Senka said, drawing his straight razor like a bow on an in- 
visible violin. . . . 

"Tomorrow, one p.m., at the Concordia Workshop. They'll 
bring four billion." 

"All right," Senka answered quietly, "you'll get your com- 
mission. Without deductions." 

Cires ambled home. He didn't like the way Senka had be- 
haved. Normally Senka never joked when it came to serious 
business. At home, he shared his apprehensions with Hava. 
As usual she shouted at him: 

"How long do you have to live, how long before you learn 
any sense? Obviously Senka won't take that job: why should 
he get his nose dirty for a measly four billion? And you'll 
make a bagel hole with butter on it, at the most." 

"What am I to do then?" Cires groaned wretchedly. "These 
bandits will drive me crazy!" 

"You just go and see Five-Rubles. That one may be in- 
terested in your phony billions. At least that way maybe you 
won't be left with nothing, like a fool." 

Old Cires put on his cap and dragged himself off to Five- 


Rubles' place. The man was asleep in his little garden under 
a white acacia tree. 

Five-Rubles listened to what Cires had to say and an- 
swered sleepily: 

"All right, you can go. You'll get your cut." 

Old Cires left quite happy, feeling like a man who had 
taken out a life insurance policy that would be paid in 
gold. ... 

The next day, Senka and Five-Rubles met in front of the 
cashier's window of the Concordia Workshop. They looked 
straight into each other's eyes and Senka asked: 

"Would you mind telling me who fingered this job for 

"Old Cires. And what about you, Senka?" 

"Old Cires too." 

"And so?" Five-Rubles said. 

"And so he won't go on living." 

"Amen," Five-Rubles agreed. 

Each bandit went peacefully on his way. According to 
the regulations, when two bandits meet on a job, the job is 

Forty minutes later, Cires was killed in his home while 
his wife Hava was out in the courtyard hanging her wash- 
ing. She didn't see the murderer, but she knew that no one 
but Senka, or one of his crowd, could have done it. Senka 
never forgave a double cross. 

That Kid! 

Babel's father, a fussy old man, was a dealer in a small 
depot of agricultural machinery in Odessa. From time to 
time, he sent his son Isaac to Kiev to buy machines from the 
manufacturer Gronfein. 

In Gronfein's house, Babel met his daughter, then a high- 
school senior. Soon they were in love. 

Marriage was ruled out. Babel, a threadbare student, the 

42 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

son of a small Odessa merchant, was obviously no match for 
the heiress to Gronfein's fortune. When the matter was first 
mentioned to him, Gronfein unbuttoned his coat, stuck his 
fingers into the armholes of his vest, and swaying back and 
forth on his heels, let out a scornful hissing sound, "F-ss-sss!" 
thus leaving no one in doubt as to how he felt. He didn't 
even bother to put his contempt into words. This would 
have been to honor the puny student too much. 

The only thing left for the lovers to do was to elope, and 
they did just that. Afterward everything developed on Old 
Testament lines: Gronfein laid his curse on Babel's de- 
scendants unto the tenth generation and disinherited his 
daughter. . . . 

But time went by. Came the Revolution. The Bolsheviks 
confiscated Gronfein's plant. The old industrialist fell so 
low that he would go out into the street unshaven, without 
his collar, and with just one gold stud holding his shirt 

And then, one day, an extraordinary piece of news 
reached the Gronfeins: that whippersnapper Babel had 
turned out to be a famous writer and, just imagine, was on 
familiar terms with none other than Maxim Gorky him- 
self. ... It seems that the Gronfeins had made a mistake 
and it was time to make peace. . . . 

Their change of heart was followed by the sudden arrival 
of Babel's mother-in-law at his Fontan summer house. . . . 
Apparently unsure that she could clinch the reconciliation 
by herself, she brought along with her from Kiev her eight- 
year-old grandson, a boy called Lusya. . . . 

The mother-in-law tried hard to live down her past atti- 
tude toward Babel. . . . We often had breakfast at Babel's 
house, and the same scene would occur again and again. 

When the boiled eggs were brought in, the old woman 
would watch Babel very closely and if he didn't help him- 
self to an egg, she would ask in a pained voice: 

"Babel," she would say — she always addressed him thus 
— "why don't you eat your eggs? You don't like them?" 


"Thanks, I just don't feel like it now." 

"So you don't like your mother-in-law?" she would go on, 
playfully rolling her eyes. "I cooked them specially for you." 

Babel, choking, would bolt down the rest of his break- 
fast and rush out. . . . 

The boy Lusya's ears burned unbearably with curiosity 
from morning till night, as though somebody were con- 
stantly tweaking them. That kid wanted to know every- 
thing. He would spy on Babel and on all of us; he was 
diabolically watchful and there was no escaping his scrutiny. 
Wherever we might go we would very soon catch sight of 
Lusya's ears, translucent in the sun, sticking up from behind 
a tamarisk shrub, or a rock on the seashore. Apparently be- 
cause of the curiosity which consumed him, Lusya was in- 
credibly thin and bony. His olive-black eyes darted about 
with uncanny speed. At the same time, he would ask up to 
thirty questions a minute without ever waiting for an an- 

Lusya was a monstrously tiresome child with a grass- 
hopper mind. He was at rest only when asleep. During the 
day he was continually on the move, prancing around, turn- 
ing cartwheels, making faces, smashing things on the floor, 
racing around the garden with bloodcurdling shrieks, tum- 
bling on the ground, swinging on doors, emitting theatrical 
guffaws, tormenting the dog, meowing, tearing out his hair 
in temper tantrums, wailing hideously without tears, pocket- 
ing dying lizards with their tails cut off, and crabs (which 
he released onto the breakfast table ) , begging things, insult- 
ing people, stealing fishing tackle — and to crown it all, he 
spoke in a raucous, hoarse voice. 

"And what's that?" he'd ask. "And what's it for? And is it 
possible to make dynamite out of a blanket? And what 
would happen if a man drank a glass of tea with sand in it? 
And who invented your funny name Paustovsky which my 
grandma can only pronounce after dinner? And could you 
catch a streetcar from behind with your fishing hook and 
pull it back? How would it be if one made jam out of crabs?" 

44 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

It is easy to imagine how we loved the company of that 
kid. "That spawn of hell!" was how Babel spoke of him, a 
blue flame shining in his eyes. 

Lusya's very presence made Babel so nervous that he 
couldn't write. He used to come to our dacha to get relief 
from Lusya, groaning with exhaustion. He addressed Lusya 
as "my boy," in such a voice that the lop-eared child's 
hair would have bristled in terror, if only he had had enough 

The sultry days dragged on but the mother-in-law showed 
not the slightest sign of leaving. "All is lost," Babel moaned, 
holding his head in his hands, "this is the end of everything. 
My skull is humming like a brass kettle, as though that 
spawn of hell were banging on it with a stick from morn- 
ing to night." 

We were trying to devise a way of getting rid of Lusya 
and his garrulous grandma. But, as often happened, Babel 
was saved by an unexpected little incident. 

Once I went to pick up Babel in the morning to go for a 
swim as we had agreed the night before. He was writing at 
his desk, looking very harassed. As I entered the room, he 
jumped, and without looking around began to stuff his man- 
uscript into a drawer, almost tearing it in the process. 

"Oof!" he sighed, recognizing me. "I thought it was that 
kid. I can only work while the monster is asleep." 

Babel was holding the indelible pencil he had been writ- 
ing with. . . . 

Then Lusya burst triumphantly into Babel's room. He im- 
mediately went for the drawer, assuming that the most in- 
teresting things must be hidden there. But Babel skillfully 
managed to lock the drawer and put the key in his pocket. 
Then Lusya began to snatch things off the table, demanding 
to know what they were. Finally he started clutching at the 
indelible pencil in Babel's hand, and after a struggle, man- 
aged to seize it. . . . 

We went to the beach. Lusya kept diving in close to the 
shore and blowing bubbles. Babel was watching him very 


closely. At one point he seized my arm and said in a con- 
spiratorial tone : 

"Do you know what I noticed, back in my room? He broke 
off the point of the indelible pencil and stuck it in his ear." 

"So what?" I asked. "Nothing will come of it," Babel agreed 
gloomily. "The hell with him then, let him dive to his heart's 

. . . We were all sitting around the breakfast table and 
Mrs. Gronfein was working up to her daily performance 
about the egg. . . . Suddenly Lusya slid from his chair, 
grabbed his ear, and started to roll around on the floor, 
emitting heart-rending howls and kicking everything within 
range. We all jumped up. A disgusting, purplish liquid was 
running from his ear. 

He shrieked uninterruptedly, on one horrendous note, 
and the women dashed around him in circles. The whole 
house was panic-stricken. Babel sat rigid and looked at 
Lusya in dismay, while he writhed on the floor and shouted, 
"It hurts, oh it hurts!" 

I was about to announce that Lusya was shamming, that 
he could not be in pain, that he had simply been diving with 
a piece of indelible pencil in his ear. But Babel caught my 
arm under the table and squeezed it hard. 

"Not a word," he hissed. "Keep quiet about the indelible 
pencil or you'll spoil everything!" 

The mother-in-law was sobbing. Mary, Babel's sister, 
was wiping off the purplish fluid with a piece of absorbent 
cotton. Babel's mother demanded that the child be taken 
immediately to Odessa to see an ear, nose, and throat spe- 

Then Babel leaped to his feet, threw his napkin on the 
table next to his unfinished tea and, red with indignation, 

"You must be out of your mind, Mother! What are you try- 
ing to do? You want to kill the boy, or what? Do you call 
those Odessa quacks physicians? They're horse doctors, the 
lot of them, charlatans, ignoramuses! . . ." 

46 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

"What am I to do then?" Mrs. Gronfein exclaimed, sob- 
bing pathetically. . . . 

"You ask me what to do!" Babel cried angrily. "You, a na- 
tive of Kiev! Don't you know that you have a world-famous 
specialist for ear, nose, and throat diseases, Professor Grin- 
blat? My advice is to take the child to Kiev. Without a mo- 
ment's delay! . . ." 

And a week later a letter arrived from Kiev. 

"Would you believe it?" the mother-in-law wrote, indig- 
nantly. "What do you think Professor Grinblat found? He 
found that brat had stuffed a piece of indelible pencil into 
his ear, and that's all there was to it. Now how do you like 

After the incident with Lusya, we felt that peace was re- 
stored. . . . Babel began working hard and I would see 
him coming out of his room silent and rather sad. 

Hard Labor 

... "I have no imagination," Babel once told me. "I'm very 
serious about this. I can't invent. I have to know everything, 
down to the last vein, otherwise I can't write a thing. My 
motto is authenticity. That's why I write so little and so 
slowly. Writing is very hard for me. After each short story, I 
feel several years older. Don't talk to me about creative 
work a la Mozart, about the blissful time spent over a manu- 
script, about the free flow of imagination! Somewhere I 
once wrote that I'm rapidly aging from asthma, that strange 
illness which lodged itself in my puny body when I was a 
child. But I was lying. When I'm writing the shortest story, I 
still have to work at it as if I were required to dig up Mount 
Everest all by myself with a pick and shovel. When I start 
working I always feel that it's too much for me. Sometimes 
I get so tired I cry. All my blood vessels ache from the 
work. I have heart spasms when I can't manage a sentence. 
And how often they don't work out, those wretched sen- 


"But your prose is so smooth," I said. "How do you manage 

"Only because of style. It's style that does it," Babel said 
and let out an old man's guffaw, imitating someone, ap- 
parently Moskvin. "He-he, young man, it's style that does 
it, it's style that does it. I can write a short story about wash- 
ing underwear and it will read like Julius Caesar's prose. It's 
all a matter of language and style. But then, you know as 
well as I do that this isn't the essence of art, but simply 
high-quality — perhaps even valuable — building material for 

"7 ust give me a couple of ideas,' as one of our Odessa 
journalists used to say, 'and I'll try to make a masterpiece out 
of them.' Come along and 111 show you how I do it. I'm 
tightfisted and cagey, but dammit, I'll show you." It was al- 
ready dark at the dacha. . . . He took a fat typescript from 
his desk which was easily two hundred pages long. 

"You know what this is?" 

I was puzzled. Surely Babel hadn't at last written a long 
work and kept it secret from everybody? I couldn't believe 
it. We all know the almost telegraphic conciseness of his 
stories; he regarded any story longer than ten pages to be 
overblown and padded. 

Surely there couldn't be two hundred pages of concen- 
trated Babel prose in this work. It was impossible. I looked 
at the first page and saw the title — "Lyubka the Cossack" — 
and was even more astonished. 

"For heaven's sake," I said, "I've read that "Lyubka the 
Cossack" is a short story you haven't yet published. Have 
you made a novel out of it?" 

Babel put his hand on the typescript and looked at me 
gleefully. Tiny wrinkles gathered at the corners of his eyes. 
"Yes," he said, and blushed in embarrassment, "this is my 
short story 'Lyubka the Cossack.' It's only fifteen pages 
long, but here I have twenty-two versions, including the last 
one, which makes two hundred pages in all." 

"Twenty- two versions!" I muttered, quite at a loss. 

48 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

"Listen!'' said Babel, who was angry now. "Literature is 
not potboiling. What's so terrible about twenty-two versions 
of the same story? You think that's extravagant, do you? 
But I'm not even sure that the twenty-second version is pub- 
lishable. I think it could still be cut down. It's this sort of 
pruning, my friend, which brings out the independent force 
of language and style. Language and style!" he repeated. 

"What I do," Babel said, "is to get hold of some trifle, some 
little anecdote, a piece of market gossip, and turn it into 
something I cannot tear myself away from. It's alive, it plays. 
It's round like a pebble on the seashore. It's held together 
by the fusion of separate parts, and this fusion is so strong 
that even lightning can't split it. And people will read the 
story. They'll remember it, they'll laugh, not because it's 
funny but because one always feels like laughing in the 
presence of human good fortune. I take the risk of speaking 
about good fortune because we're alone. As long as I live 
you mustn't tell anyone about this conversation. Give me 
your word. It is, of course, none of my doing that, I don't 
know how, a demon or an angel, whatever you want to call 
it, has taken possession of me, the son of a petty merchant. 
And I obey him like a slave, like a beast of burden. I have 
sold my soul to him, and I must write in the best possible 
way. I guess it's an affliction. But if you take it away from 
me— either my good fortune or my affliction — the blood will 
gush out of my veins and my heart along with it; I will be 
worth no more than a chewed cigarette butt. It's this work 
that makes me into a man, and not an Odessa street-corner 

He remained silent for a while and added with a fresh 
surge of bitterness: "I have no imagination. I have only the 
desire to possess it. Remember Blok's 'I see an enchanted 
shore, an enchanted horizon'? Blok reached this shore but I 
shan't. I see this shore at an unendurable distance. My mind 
is too matter-of-fact. But I should at least be thankful that 
fate has put into my heart a longing for that enchanted hori- 
zon. I work to the very limit of my powers. I do my utmost 


because I want to be at the feast of the gods and I'm afraid I 
might be driven away." 

A tear gleamed behind the convex lenses of his glasses. 
He took them off and wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his 
drab patched jacket. 

"I did not choose my race," he said suddenly in a broken 
voice. "I'm a Jew, a kike. Sometimes I think there's noth- 
ing I can't understand, but one thing I'll never understand: 
the reason for this black vileness which bears such a hum- 
drum name as anti-Semitism." He fell silent. I too was silent 
and waited for him to calm down and for his hands to stop 

"I went through a pogrom when I was a child and sur- 
vived. But they twisted the head off my dove. Why? ... I 
hope my wife doesn't come in," he whispered. "Lock the 
door. She doesn't like this sort of talk. And she might easily 
cry all night. She thinks I'm a very lonely man and perhaps 
she's right." 

What could I say? I was silent. 

"So there!" said Babel, bending myopically over his type- 
script. "I work like a mule, but I'm not complaining. I chose 
this forced labor myself. I'm like a galley slave, chained for 
life to his oar and in love with it, with every detail of it, 
with the very wood polished by his hands. After years of con- 
tact with human skin the roughest wood takes on a fine color 
and becomes like ebony. It's just the same with our words, 
with the Russian language. You have only to put your warm 
hand to it and it becomes a living and precious thing. 

"But one thing at a time. When I write down the first 
version of a story, the manuscript looks disgusting, ab- 
solutely horrible! It's a conglomeration of more or less 
successful bits, joined together by the dreariest connect- 
ing links, what are called 'transitions,' but which are really 
like dirty ropes. Read the first version of Xyubka the Cos- 
sack' and you will see that it is nothing but a futile, tooth- 
less prattling, a clumsy assortment of words. It's at this 
point that you have to get down to work. This is where it 

50 ] Konstantin Paustovsky 

begins. I check sentence after sentence, and not once but 
many times. First I throw out the useless words. You need 
a sharp eye for that, because language is very good at 
concealing its garbage of repetitions, synonyms, and out- 
right absurdities; it seems to be trying to outwit you all the 

"After this, I retype the manuscript to see the text better, 
and put it aside for two or three days — that is, if my impa- 
tience doesn't get the better of me — and then I check it 
again, sentence by sentence, word by word. And again 
I'm certain to find a number of weeds and nettles I've 
missed. And thus I go on, retyping the text each time; I 
work until I get to the point where, despite the most fero- 
cious scrutiny, I can't find a speck of mud in the manu- 

"But that's by no means the end of it. There's more to 
come. When the garbage has been thrown out, I check all 
the images, similes, and metaphors for freshness and accu- 
racy. If there's no accurate simile, I'd rather go without one. 
Let a noun live by itself, in its simplicity. 

"A simile must be as precise as a slide rule and as natural 
as the smell of dill. Oh yes, I was forgetting: before re- 
moving the verbal rubbish, I break the text up into easy 
sentences. Use as many periods as possible! I would like to 
see that rule become a state law for writers! Each sentence 
is one thought, one image, and no more. So don't be afraid 
of periods. Perhaps my sentences are too short. This may 
be partly due to my chronic asthma. I can't talk long- 
windedly; I'm short of breath. The longer the sentences, 
the harder it is for me to breathe. ... I think that a noun 
needs only one adjective and it must be very carefully 
chosen. Only a genius can afford to use two adjectives. 

"The paragraphs and punctuation must be used cor- 
rectly, not because of some dead scholastic rules, but so as 
to have the maximum effect on the reader. Paragraphs are 
particularly magnificent. They allow us to change the rhythm 
with ease, and often, like flashes of lightning, they illuminate 


some particular sight in a quite unexpected aspect. There are 
good writers who are careless about their punctuation and 
their paragraphs. So, despite the excellence of their prose, it 
is obscured by haste and carelessness. . . ." 

"Yes," I said, "it really is like hard labor. It makes you think 
twenty times before becoming a writer." 

"But the main thing," Babel said, "is not to allow this hard 
labor to deaden the text. Otherwise it's all for nothing, and 
will turn into God knows what." 


Lhis story is largely autobiographical, as Paustovsky suggests in 
his reminiscences of Babel which appear in this book. As a child 
in Odessa, Babel had endured the pogroms of Czarist Russia; as 
a young Bolshevik during the Civil War he was witness to the 
White Army's acts of violence against Jews, described here. Dur- 
ing the Civil War and the war with Poland, Babel was a political 
commissar in Budyonny's cavalry, and, for a brief period, a cleri- 
cal worker for the Cheka. In "Red Cavalry" and other stories, like 
"The Journey," Babel described the savagery of war with scrupu- 
lous objectivity, making no attempt to draw the moral which so- 
cialist realism demanded. As a result he was often under attack 
for "naturalism." Publication of his work ceased altogether in 
1937; he was arrested two years later and died in a concentration 
camp in 1941. 

"The Journey," written in the twenties, was first published in 
the literary magazine 30 Days, in 1932. It reappeared in a cen- 
sored version in a collection of Babel stories published in Moscow 
in 1957, after his posthumous rehabilitation. The censored pas- 
sage, which is restored in this translation, was evidently omitted 
for reasons of prudery. Translation by Mirra Ginsburg. 


The Journey 

The front collapsed in 1917. I left it in November. At home 
mother prepared a bundle of underwear and dry bread for 
me. I got to Kiev the day before Muraviev began to bom- 
bard the city. I was on my way to Petersburg. For twelve 
days we sat it out in the cellar of Chaim the Barber's hotel 


in the Bessarabka. I got a permit to leave the city from 
the Soviet commandant of Kiev. 

There is no drearier sight in the world than the Kiev rail- 
road station. For many years its makeshift wooden barracks 
have blighted the approaches to the city. Lice crackled on 
the wet boards. Deserters, gypsies, and black marketeers 
were lying all over the place. Old Galician women urinated 
standing on the platform. The lowering sky was furrowed 
with clouds, suffused with rain and gloom. 

Three days went by before the first train left. At first it 
stopped at every verst, but then it gathered speed; the 
wheels began to rumble with a will, singing a song of power. 
Everyone was happy in our freight car. In 1918, rapid 
travel made people happy. During the night the train shud- 
dered and came to a stop. The doors of our car slid open 
and we saw the greenish gleam of snow. A railroad teleg- 
rapher entered the car, wearing a wide fur coat fastened 
with a leather belt, and soft Caucasian boots. He stretched 
out his hand and rapped his palm with one finger. 

"Your papers. Put them here!" 

Near the door, a quiet old woman lay huddled on some 
bales. She was going to her son, a railroad worker in Luban. 
Next to me, a teacher, Yehuda Weinberg, and his wife sat 
dozing. The teacher had been married a few days earlier 
and was taking his young wife to Petersburg. All the way 
they had talked in whispers about new methods of teaching, 
and then had fallen asleep. Even in sleep their hands were 
linked, clinging to each other. 

The telegrapher read their travel document, signed by 
Lunacharsky, took a mauser with a slender, grimy muzzle 
from under his coat, and shot the teacher in the face. 

A large, stooping peasant wearing a fur cap with the ear- 
flaps undone shuffled behind the telegrapher. The teleg- 
rapher winked at the peasant, who put his lamp on the 
floor, unbuttoned the trousers of the dead man, cut off his 
genitals with a knife, and began stuffing them into his 
wife's mouth. 

54 ] Isaac Babel 

"Treif wasn't good enough for you," said the telegrapher. 
"So here's some kosher for you." l 

The woman's soft neck bulged. Not a sound came from 
her. The train had come to a halt in the steppe. The 
snowdrifts shimmered with an arctic glitter. Jews were be- 
ing flung out of the cars onto the roadbed. Shots rang out 
like exclamations. A peasant in a fur hat with dangling ear- 
flaps led me behind a frozen woodpile and began to search 
me. A cloud-dimmed moon shone down on us. The violet 
wall of forest was smoking. Stiff icy fingers like wooden 
stumps crept over my body. The telegrapher shouted from 
the open door of the car: 

"Jew or Russian?" 

"Russian," the peasant muttered, feeling me over. "Some 
Russian! He'd make a fine rabbi . . ." 

He brought his crumpled worried face closer to mine, 
ripped out the four ten-ruble gold coins my mother had 
sewn into my underpants for the journey, took off my boots 
and coat, then turned me around, struck the back of my neck 
with the edge of his hand, and said in Yiddish: 

"Ankloif, Chaim . . . Get going, Chaim . . ." 

I walked away, my bare feet sinking into the snow. My 
back lit up like a target, its bull's-eye centered on my ribs. 
The peasant did not shoot. Between the columns of pines, in 
the subterranean shelter of the forest, a light swayed in a 
crown of blood-red smoke. I ran up to the hut. Its chimney 
smoked from dung fire. The forester groaned when I burst 
in. Swathed in strips of cloth cut out from overcoats, he sat 
in a little bamboo, velvet-cushioned armchair, shredding 
tobacco in his lap. His image was drawn out in the smoky air. 
He moaned. Then, rising from the chair, he bowed low be- 
fore me: 

"Go away, my good man ... Go away, my good citi- 
zen . . ." 

He led me out to a path and gave me rags to wrap my feet. 

1 The two previous paragraphs were excised in the censored 1957 version 


By late morning I had dragged myself to a little town. There 
was no doctor at the hospital to amputate my frozen feet. A 
male nurse was in charge of the ward. Every day he raced 
up to the hospital on a short-legged black colt, tethered him 
to a post, and came in blazing, with glittering eyes. 

"Friedrich Engels," he would say bending over my pillow, 
his pupils glowing like embers, "teaches the likes of you that 
there mustn't be any nations, but we say: a nation must 
exist. . . ." 

Tearing the bandages from my feet, he would straighten 
up and, gritting his teeth, ask me in a low voice: 

"Where are you headed? What devil drives you? Why is it 
always on the move, this tribe of yours? . . . Why are you 
making all this trouble, why all this turmoil? . . ." 

One night the town Soviet had us taken away in a cart- 
patients who didn't get along with the male nurse, and old 
Jewish women in wigs, the mothers of local commissars. 

My feet healed up. I set out further along the hunger- 
stricken road to Zhlobin, Orsha, and Vitebsk. 

From Novo-Sokolniki to Loknya, I found shelter under 
the muzzle of a howitzer. We were riding on a flatcar. Fe- 
diukha, my chance companion who was on the great odys- 
sey of a deserter, was a storyteller, punster, and wit. We 
slept under the mighty, short, upturned muzzle of the gun, 
keeping each other warm in a canvas den lined with hay 
like the lair of a beast. Past Loknya, Fediukha stole my 
traveling box and disappeared. The box had been given to 
me by the town Soviet and contained two sets of army un- 
derwear, some dry bread, and a little money. For two days 
— we were then approaching Petersburg — I had no food. At 
the Tsarskoye Selo station I had my last taste of shooting. A 
patrol fired into the air to greet the oncoming train. 

The black marketeers were led out onto the platform and 
the soldiers began to strip off their clothes. The liquor-filled 
rubber bags in which they were encased flopped down on 
the asphalt next to the real men. At nine in the evening, the 
howling prison of the station disgorged me onto Zagorodny 

56 ] Isaac Babel 

Prospect. Across the street, on the wall of a boarded-up 
pharmacy, the thermometer registered twenty-four degrees 
below zero. The wind roared through the tunnel of Go- 
rokhovaya Street. A gas light flickered wildly over the ca- 
nal. Our chilled, granite Venice stood motionless. I entered 
Gorokhovaya, an icy field hemmed in by cliffs. 

The Cheka was housed in Number 2, in what had been 
the Governors palace. Two machine guns, two iron dogs, 
stood in the vestibule with raised muzzles. I showed the com- 
mandant a letter from Vanya Kalugin, the N.C.O. under 
whom I had served in the Shuisky Regiment. Kalugin, who 
was now an interrogator in the Cheka, had written me to 

"Go to the Anichkov Palace," said the commandant. 
""That's where he works now. . . ." 

"I'll never make it," I smiled in reply. 

Nevsky Prospect flowed into the distance like the Milky 
Way. Dead horses punctuated it like milestones. Their 
raised legs propped up a low-fallen sky. Their slit bellies 
gleamed white and clean. An old man who looked like a 
guardsman went by, pulling a carved toy sled. Straining for- 
ward, he dug his leather feet into the ice. A Tyrolean hat 
was perched on his head, and his beard, tied up with string, 
was tucked into his scarf. 

"I'll never make it," I said to the old man. 

He stopped. His furrowed, leonine face was calm. He 
thought about his own troubles and went on with his sled. 

"And so, there is no longer any need to conquer Peters- 
burg," I thought, and tried to recall the name of the man 
who was trampled to death by Arab horses at the very end 
of his journey. It was Yehuda Halevi. 

Two Chinese in bowler hats, with loaves of bread under 
their arms, stood on the corner of the Sadovaya. With frozen 
nails they marked off tiny portions of the bread and showed 
them to approaching prostitutes. The women went past 
them in silent parade. 

At the Anichkov Bridge I sat down on a ledge below one 


of Klodt's bronze horses. My arm slipped under my head, 
and I stretched out on the polished slab. But the granite 
stung me, struck me, and catapulted me toward the palace. 

The door of the cranberry-colored wing was open. A blue 
gas light gleamed over the doorman, who was sleeping in a 
chair. His lower lip drooped; his wrinkled face was inky 
and deathlike. Under his brilliantly lit, unbelted tunic he 
wore court uniform trousers embroidered in gold braid. An 
arrow, raggedly drawn in ink, pointed the way to the com- 
mandant's office. I climbed the stairway and walked through 
empty low-ceilinged rooms. Women, painted in dark and 
gloomy colors, danced in endless rings over the walls and 
ceilings. Metal gratings covered the windows, forced bolts 
hung from the window frames. At the end of this suite of 
rooms, behind a table, sat Kalugin with his cap of straw- 
colored peasant hair, lit up as on a stage. On the table lay a 
pile of children's toys, bits of colored cloth, torn picture 

"So here you are," said Kalugin, raising his head. "Hello 
. . . We need you. . . ." 

I brushed aside the toys littering the table, lay down on 
the gleaming top, and woke — seconds or hours later — on 
a low sofa. The bright rays of a chandelier played over me in 
a cascade of glass. My rags had been cut from me and lay 
in a puddle on the floor. 

"And now for a bath," said Kalugin, who stood over the 
sofa. He lifted me and carried me to a bathtub. The tub was 
the old-fashioned kind, with low sides. There was no water 
in the faucets; Kalugin poured water over me from a pail. 
Clothing was laid out for me on the pale yellow satin cush- 
ions of the backless wicker chairs: a dressing gown with 
clasps, a shirt and socks of heavy silk. I sank into the un- 
derpants up to my neck. The dressing gown was made for a 
giant; I stepped on the flapping ends of the sleeves. 

"Don't joke with Alexander Alexandrovich," said Kalugin, 
rolling up my sleeves. "The fellow must have weighed three 
hundred pounds." 

58 ] Isaac Babel 

We managed to tuck up the dressing gown of Alexander 
the Third and returned to the first room. It was a library 
of Maria Fyodorovna — a perfumed box in which gilded book- 
cases with raspberry stripes were pushed against the walls. 

I told Kalugin who had been killed in our Shuisky Regi- 
ment, who had been elected commissar, who had gone to 
join the Whites in the Kuban. We drank tea, the stars swam 
and dissolved in the cut-glass walls of our tumblers. With 
the stars, we ate horsemeat sausage, black and moist. The 
dense fine silk of the curtains divided us from the world; the 
sun suspended from the ceiling splintered and shone, waves 
of stifling heat came from the radiators. 

"Hell, we only live once," said Kalugin when we had fin- 
ished off the horsemeat. He went out and returned with two 
boxes — a present from Sultan Abdul-Hamid to the Russian 
sovereign. One was made of zinc, the other was a cigar box 
pasted over with ribbons and paper insignia. "A sa majeste 
VErrvpereur de toutes les Russies," was engraved on the zinc 
lid, "From your loving cousin . . ." 

The aroma which Maria Fyodorovna had known so well a 
quarter of a century before drifted across the library. The 
cigarettes, twenty centimeters long and as thick as fingers, 
were wrapped in pink paper; I do not know whether anyone 
but the Emperor of all the Russias ever smoked such ciga- 
rettes, but I chose a cigar. Kalugin smiled, looking at me. 

"We'll chance it," he said, "maybe they weren't counted. 
. . . The servants told me Alexander the Third was a great 
smoker: he loved tobacco, kvass, and champagne. . . . Yet 
look at those five-kopek earthenware ashtrays on his table, 
and the patches on his trousers. . . ." 

Indeed, the dressing gown I wore was greasy, shiny, and 
had often been mended. 

We spent the rest of the night sorting the toys of Nicholas 
the Second, his drums and locomotives, his christening shirts 
and copybooks covered with childish scrawls. There were 
photographs of grand dukes who had died in infancy, locks 


of their hair, diaries of the Danish Princess Dagmara, let- 
ters from her sister, the Queen of England, breathing per- 
fume and decay, crumbling away in our fingers. On the fly- 
leaves of Bibles and of a volume of Lamartine, friends and 
ladies in waiting — daughters of burgomasters and state coun- 
cilors — bid their farewells in slanting, diligent lines to the 
princess who was departing for Russia. Queen Louise, her 
mother, who ruled over a small kingdom, had taken care to 
place her children well: she married off one of her daughters 
to Edward VII, Emperor of India and King of England; an- 
other was married to a Romanov; her son George was made 
King of Greece. Princess Dagmara became Maria in Russia. 
Far away now were the canals of Copenhagen and King 
Christian's chocolate-brown sideburns. Bearing the last Czars, 
this little woman raged like an angry vixen behind her guard 
of Preobrazhensky Grenadiers, but her blood flowed into an 
implacable vengeful granite earth. . . . 

Till dawn we could not tear ourselves away from this 
mute, disastrous chronicle. Abdul-Hamid's cigar was smoked 
to the end. In the morning Kalugin took me to the Cheka at 
Number 2 Gorokhovaya Street. He spoke to Uritsky. I stood 
behind the draperies which flowed to the floor in waves of 
cloth. Snatches of the conversation reached me through them. 

"He is one of ours," said Kalugin. "His father is a shop- 
keeper, but he has broken with them. . . . He knows lan- 

The Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Northern Com- 
munes walked out of the office with his swaying gait. Be- 
hind his pince-nez bulged swollen flabby eyelids, scorched 
with sleeplessness. 

I was made a translator in the Foreign Department. I 
received a soldier's uniform and meal coupons. In a corner 
assigned to me in the large hall of the former Governor's 
palace, I went to work translating the testimony of diplo- 
mats, incendiaries, and spies. 

Before the day was over, I had everything — clothes, 

60 ] Isaac Babel 

food, work, and comrades, true in friendship and in death, 
such comrades as are found in no country in the world but 

Thus, thirteen years ago, began my splendid life, a life of 
thought and merriment. 


Alexander Grin (Grinevsky) was born in Vyatka (now Kirov) 
of Polish parents in 1880. As a child, living in this suffocating 
Russian province, he dreamed of exotic and romantic worlds 
where men were strong and free. He nourished himself largely 
on American literature: Foe, Mayne Reid, and Cooper. As a 
youth he longed to escape the dreary realities of life in Czarist 
Russia and run away to sea. But he was not able to get farther 
than Odessa, which nonetheless provided him with much of the 
romantic material for his works. 

A protege of Gorky, Grin became a prolific writer of fantastic 
tales (much in the spirit of Gorky's early "bosyak" ["bum"] sto- 
ries), whose action usually takes place in the imaginary country 
of "Grinland." Because of his exotic plots, his use of Anglo- 
Saxon-sounding names, and his peculiar "translated" style, he 
was open thought by his readers to be a foreign author in trans- 
lation. It is interesting to note that he sometimes appears to an- 
ticipate the existentialist trend in Western literature, as in the 
story translated here. 

This totally anomalous Soviet writer died of natural causes in 
1932. Selections of his work were often reprinted until 1950 r 
when he was posthumously denounced as an "arch-cosmopolitan"; 
it was said that the Soviet intelligentsia had been infected by him 
with a disease quaintly defined as "Grinomania." Since Stalin's 
death he has again been published, in large printings, and 
his influence, thanks partly to the efforts of friends such as Pau- 
stovsky and other Grinomaniacs, is as strong as ever among So- 
viet intellectuals of all ages for whom he provides an antidote to 
socialist realism. Translation by Christopher Bird. 


The Making of Asper 

In the gloomy valley of Engra, near the quarries, Judge 
Gakker confessed the most extraordinary things to me. 

"My friend," began Gakker, "man's higher purpose is crea- 
tive work. The kind of work to which I have dedicated my 
life demands ironclad secrecy during the creator's lifetime. 
The artist's name must remain unknown; more than that, 
people should not suspect that certain phenomena which 
astonish them are nothing but works of art. 

"Painting, music, and poetry create an internal world of 
artistic fancy. That is estimable, though less interesting than 
my sort of creation. I make living people, and this is a lot 
more troublesome than color photography. Carefully put- 
ting the finishing touches on the tiny parts, fitting them to- 
gether, tidying them up, devising intellectual faculties for 
the newly created subject and also making sure that it acts 
in accordance with its status — all this takes considerable time. 

"No, no," he continued, noting the unease and distrust on 
my face, "I'm dead serious and you'll soon see it. Like every 
artist, I'm ambitious and want to have disciples; therefore, 
knowing that I shall end my life tomorrow, I've made up my 
mind to confide to you my method of attaining certain re- 

"Our earth is parsimonious in originating new forms of 
plants, animals, and insects. I had the idea of extending 
nature's luxurious diversity by creating new forms of animal 
life. If each discovery of a new variety of luminous beetle or 
orchid immortalizes the name of some lucky professor, then 
how much prouder would I be if I were able — not through 
crossing, that is nature's way — to alter artificially the char- 


acteristics of the species in separate individual specimens, 
and transmit these mutations to their offspring. I found a 
sure way, so strange and so infinitely simple that if I let you 
in on my discovery, you'll surely be amazed. I'm not going to 
tell you about this, however, so as not to make certain poor 
animals into amusing oddities, the pariahs of the scientific 
world; for now they are objects of reverential study which 
crown their discoverers with fame. 

"I have created a swimming snail with new respiratory 
organs; six kinds of May bettles of which one is specially 
noteworthy for the secretion of an aromatic fluid; a white 
sparrow; a duck-billed pigeon; a crested snipe; a red swan; 
and many others. As you see, I chose well-known and 
common species with a view to their earliest possible dis- 
covery by the scientists. My creations caused a furor; nature 
was held to be the creator, but I read about the fins on a new 
snail with a smile and with tender feelings toward these 
little creatures, whose maker was none other than I. Trying 
to see how far I could go, I then started to create human 
beings. I devised three, and released them into life: The 
Veiled Lady,' the 'Poet Teklin,' well known to you, and the 
robber, 'Asper,' about whom everybody agrees that he is 
the terror of the region. 

"It seemed a pointless amusement to produce ordinary 
people, of whom there are quite enough. Mine should be 
able to hold the center of universal attention and make a 
strong impression, just like famous works of art; the trail 
conceived and blazed by me must make a deep impression 
on the souls of men. 

"I began with 'The Veiled Lady' as an experiment. One 
day a shapely young lady called on the public prosecutor 
of the High Court in D. A black veil hid her face. She ex- 
plained that she wished to see the prosecutor to make secret 
disclosures relative to the sensational trial of X., indicted 
for high treason. A servant went in to announce her and re- 
turned to find that the lady had disappeared. At the very 
same moment on that very day, as was later discovered, 

64 ] Alexander Grin 

the mysterious lady came on a similar errand to Senator G., 
to the Minister of Justice, to the Minister of Defense, to the 
Police Inspector, and in each and every place she vanished 
without waiting to be received. 

"The speculation in the newspapers and in society about 
this inexplicable occurrence gave me many a pleasant hour. 
The gutter press shrieked about a Madame K., the mis- 
tress of a staff general who was interested in getting rid of 
the defendant. Others, foaming at the mouth, declared that 
the lady was the cunning invention of the conservatives, 
bribed by the Ministry Police in order to smother the scan- 
dal. Still others concocted an intrigue on the part of foreign 
powers, accusing the government of treason and asserting 
that the Veiled Lady was Prince V/s morganatic wife, a 
beauty dangerous to all men, however high the offices they 
held. Ladies in high society as well as women of the demi- 
monde were slandered in whispered drawing-room gossip; 
the mysterious lady personified graft, depravity, intrigue, 
party conspiracy, cowardice, and treachery. At last she 
was universally proclaimed to be Mariana Chen — the ailing 
sister of Captain Chen — a lady who always fancied herself 
privy to the truth on any subject. 

"For three years and in four cities she appeared and dis- 
appeared at self-appointed meetings which concerned all 
kinds of weighty matters of world import. Her face was 
never seen except once, in a picture she placed in the Paris 
Herald together with a letter in her own handwriting. Here 
is that picture. " 

Gakker's tale had stirred me. I began to believe him. It 
was like an echo in a ravine which allows us to gauge the 
height of the precipice. Gakker's tale resounded like an echo 
of human power. 

He handed me the photograph; it would be difficult to 
take a better picture of a face that expressed secretiveness. 
The gaze of half-shut eyes was steady under a high, proud 
forehead. The face shone in its pale, hard oval. A finger had, 


it seemed, only lately been poised against the compressed 

"Mariana Chen is a symbol of all the obscurity surround- 
ing any tangled affair that involves a large number of peo- 

"Making the poet Teklin, whose translator I was until his 
death, was a far more difficult business. As you know, this 
writer was a man of the people, and the artistic demands 
made upon persons of natural talent are no higher than the 
usual ones; being prolific and enjoying democratic sympa- 
thies they can generally be sure of great popularity. 

"In editorial offices a shy country giant began to appear, 
offering verses presentable enough for an uneducated man; 
he attracted attention, and within a year he was already 
writing with marked improvement. Then, after several im- 
pressive articles and reviews, Teklin vanished, reporting 
from time to time that he was in India or Bukhara or Aus- 
tralia, moving with the speed of lightning from one end of 
the world to the other. Teklin continued to write verse of 
lofty social significance; his wholesome' poetry satisfied a 
broad sector of society, and his fame increased. I began to 
translate him into all possible languages and I can assure 
you I attained a reputation as a pretty fair translator. 

"Teklin recently died of yellow fever in Palestro. Even 
after he got rich, the poet managed without servants, was a 
vegetarian, and enjoyed physical work." 

"You're joking!" I shouted. "It's unthinkable!" 

"And, pray, why?" Gakker was sincerely amazed. "Can't I 
compose bad verse?" He fell silent. 

"Yes, Teklin was a fine work of art," said Gakker, rousing 
himself from his thoughts. "I took great pains with him. But 
now I come to the one who, to me, is the most interesting of 
all — Asper. I shall not go too closely into the question of 
technique. In this example you will see the artist at work 
on his first draft. 

66 ] Alexander Grin 

"Asper is the idealized robber type — the romantic, the 
scourge of merchants, a friend of the poor, and an object 
of the platonic love of women who seek heroism wherever 
bullets fly. Strange as it seems, society, while waging a bit- 
ter fight against crime, nevertheless crowns thieves with a 
peculiar kind of halo, offering with one hand what it takes 
away with the other. After sleep, hunger, and love, man's 
greatest need is perhaps for the unusual, and writers of all 
nations and peoples have immortalized the pursuits of 
robbers in their works: Cartouche, 1 Morgan, 2 Rocambole, 3 
Fra Diavolo, 4 Stenka Razin. 5 However much they stink of 
blood, the man in the crowd is drawn relentlessly toward 
them as a puppy yelping in fright is drawn to the slowly 
swaying head of a boa constrictor. It's a tonic for the nerves, 
so I created the legendary Asper. Roving through the 
slums where men's faces are overgrown with hair and voices 
are cracked by drink, I hit on a runaway convict, a danger- 
ous man indeed. I had no trouble, with the help of money, 
in sending him overseas; he was well known to the police 
and his arrest was not to my advantage. Taking someone 
else's mousetrap but putting my own mouse in it, I made 
use of his name: 'Asper.' Armed robberies are common- 
place in our region and I skillfully exploited them — but only 
those which were committed without violence or murder. 
Having created Asper, I then created a gang for him; after 
each robbery, the victim received a short notice which 
read: 'Asper thanks you.' At the same time the poorest 
among the peasants received money from me and notes 
'From Asper the generous' or 'To each his own, Asper.' Some- 
times these messages were longer. Frightened farmers, for 

1 Cartouche, 1693-1721, otherwise known as Louis-Dominique Bourguignon, 
was the leader of a band of robbers. He was broken on the wheel. 

2 Sir Henry Morgan, seventeenth-century buccaneer, whose exploits included 
the capture of Panama in 1671. 

3 Rocambole, the adventurer who was the hero of a series of novels by 
Ponson du Terrail, 1829-1871, called Les Exploits de Rocambole. 

4 Italian bandit and soldier who resisted the French invasion of the kingdom 
of Naples in 1799. 

5 Celebrated Cossack chief who led a rebellion against the Czar in 1670. 


instance, would get the following: Til be coming soon. 
Signed for Asper — his helper who reveals not his name/ 
Sometimes these farmers were actually attacked, but when- 
ever the robbers were captured they naturally denied any 
connection with Asper's gang. This offered even stronger 
proof of the wonderful discipline imposed by the elusive, 
and — a trait by now universally acknowledged — courageous 

"The daring and effrontery of Asper attracted the keenest 
attention. It was rumored that he hardly ever showed him- 
self and opinions as to what he looked like differed widely. 
His victims' imaginations were of enormous help to me. 
From time to time I would add a little color. For instance, if 
I saw a peasant traveling all by himself along a road, I'd put 
on a mask and pass silently by him; the age-old urge to show 
off would force the poor dolt to tell everything about his en- 
counter with none other than Asper himself. Once I pre- 
pared a burnt-out campfire near a small railroad station, 
leaving two masks, several spent cartridges, and a knife 
nearby on the grass. This was then solemnly declared to 
have been a bivouac hastily abandoned by the robber. 

"His good deeds became more and more varied and fre- 
quent. I dispatched money to poverty-stricken brides, to 
widows, to starving workers, and toys to sick children, 
etc. With each passing month Asper's popularity waxed 
stronger and the police exhausted themselves trying to lo- 
cate the villain. Whole villages suspected one another of har- 
boring Asper, but it was impossible to follow the comings 
and goings of this remarkable man. Once, when I had heard 
that the village of Garrakh was to be put under close sur- 
veillance and every one of its citizens searched, following 
a denunciation by some lying or imaginative individual, I 
sent a letter to the newspaper Dawn in Asper's name. In it 
Asper certified on oath that Garrakh was hostile to him. 

"About that time Asper fell in love. 

"A young lady, R., had taken up residence not far from 
Zurbagan in her sister's villa. During a stroll in the woods 

68 ] Alexander Grin 

a stone wrapped in a piece of paper fell at her feet. Picking 
up the object, R., in fright and amazement, read the follow- 
ing lines: 'My power is great but your power is greater. I 
have loved you long and secretly. Do not worry — although 
I am hunted and an outcast, in pronouncing your name I 
become transformed. Asper/ The young lady hurried home. 
A family council decided that this was the silly prank of one 
of the neighbors and calmed the perturbed beauty. In 
the morning they discovered a garden full of roses under her 
window; the whole area from the flower beds to the win- 
dowsills was covered with gigantic bouquets. A dagger of 
blue steel with a mother-of-pearl handle impaled a note on 
the wooden wall of the house. On the note was inscribed: 
'From Asper.' 

"R. immediately departed for another part of the country, 
followed by the not unenvious gaze of the ladies in her circle. 

"Elusiveness is more disturbing than crime. On several 
occasions the police laid an ambush in mountain passes, on 
river banks, at fords, in caves, and everywhere one might 
possibly assume Asper to have his secret haunts. But the 
bandit's supernatural elusiveness, which deprived the po- 
lice of even the meager consolation of a skirmish or a chase, 
little by little cooled the ardor of the authorities. Half- 
heartedly, with no enthusiasm, they took increasingly bu- 
reaucratic measures, like a chronically ill person who has 
lost all hope of being cured, engaging in endless official cor- 
respondence. Then, full of concern for my brainchild, I sent 
a denunciation which revealed the location of his perma- 
nent residence: a small hut I had built deep in the forest. 
Cavalry and infantry forces were sent to follow up this clue. 

"Early in the morning as the pursuers were approaching 
Asper's hut, shots rang out from the green undergrowth. 
Robbers were firing from behind the shrubbery. These were 
blank cartridges I had wired and hidden with fantastic skill 
in various parts of the forest; when the mounted policemen 
passed along the only trail in this area they did not suspect 
that their horses rode over a board concealed underground 


which pressed a button. I had taken enormous trouble with 
this. The police raced in the direction of the shots, but found 
nobody; the robbers had disappeared. In the hut, coals 
were still smoldering on the hearth. The remains of food on 
pewter plates, knives and forks, jugs of wine all told of a 
hasty getaway. In chests under the bed, on the walls, and in 
one small secret hiding-place several wigs, false beards, pis- 
tols, and stores of firearms were discovered. On the floor lay 
a tortoise-shell fan, a belt, and a woman's silk handkerchief 
which were thought to be the belongings of Asper's mistress. 

"The game has dragged on for six years. Many songs have 
been composed by young people in Asper's honor. But I am 
now convinced that Asper must be captured; recently the 
police have infested the region to such an extent that rob- 
bery has ceased entirely. Nothing has been heard of Asper 
for a year now, and many people dispute his very existence. 

"I must save him — that is, I must kill him. I shall do this 

Gakker rolled back one of the sleeves of his shirt to show 
me a tattoo. The design was composed of the letter A, a skull, 
and a bat. 

"I copied this from the arm of the real Asper," said Gak- 
ker. "The police will recognize the design." 

I understood. "You're going to die?" 


"But, look, life is worth more than Asper; think of that, my 

"I have a special attitude toward life: I consider it an art; 
art demands sacrifices; furthermore, a death of this kind 
attracts me. In dying, I shall merge with Asper, knowing, 
unlike authors who are unsure of the significance of their 
works, that Asper shall live on a long time and serve as 
material for other creators, founders of legends about mag- 
nanimous robbers. So now, farewell, and pray for me to 
whomever can grant absolution." 

He rose and we shook hands. I knew that sleep would not 
find me this night and walked along slowly. Asper, as a rob- 

70 ] Alexander Grin 

ber, continued to exist for me, despite Gakker's tale. I looked 
toward the mountains and sensed quite clearly that the ban- 
dit was there; hiding, he was lying in wait along the high- 
way and cocking his weapons; my invincible certainty in this 
was stronger than reason. 

"About 11:00 p.m. at the Vul cliffs, in the abyss, the leg- 
endary Asper was killed. Holding up a mail stage, the rob- 
ber, while cocking his carbine, slipped and fell; the post- 
man took advantage of this and shot him in the head. The 
wounded Asper, rushing through the undergrowth, came to 
the precipice but could not remain on his feet and hurtled 
downward onto sharp rocks scattered at the bottom of the 
400-foot void. The disfigured corpse was identified by a 
tattoo on the left arm and a stiletto with the robber's name 
on the blade. Details in a special issue/' 

That's what I read in yesterday's paper, bundles of 
which were being passed out by hoarse-voiced newsboys. 
"Death of Asper!" they shouted. I have put this news- 
paper into a special box of curiosities and sad memories. 
Anyone can see it if he wants to. 


ihe "M.Ts." of the title is the poetess Marina Tsvetayeva, whose 
work Pasternak so greatly admired and with whom he became 
close friends, largely by correspondence. "M.Ts." was written in 
1928 when Tsvetayeva was living as an emigree abroad. In his 
autobiographical essay Pasternak wrote of his sense of kinship 
with her: "a similarity of points of departure, tastes, and aspira- 
tions." When he met her at an anti-Fascist congress in Paris in 
1935, she asked him whether he thought she and her husband 
and children should return to Russia; her pro-communist family 
was pressing her to flee the loneliness and isolation of emigre life. 
Pasternak did not know what to reply. "I was afraid that these 
remarkable people would have a difficult and troubled time at 
home," he wrote. "But the tragedy which was to strike the whole 
family surpassed my fears beyond all measure." The family re- 
turned to Russia in 1989. Her husband was arrested and per- 
ished in prison; her daughter was also arrested, her son died at 
the front. Tsvetayeva herself was exiled to a small town where 
she could not find work, even as a cleaning woman. There, she 
hanged herself in 1941. Translation by George Reavey. 



Turning your pocket inside out, 
You justly say: Search, probe, and rummage. 
I'm far from caring how raw the mist is. 
What's done is like a wild March morning. 

The trees in fluffy peasant coats 
Stand rooted in brown gamboge soil, 

72 ] Boris Pasternak 

Though probably the branches find 
This covering difficult to bear. 

The dew sets all the branches trembling 
As it ripples like merino fleece. 
Dew scurries like a hedgehog, shaking 
Dry tufts of bristle on its nose. 

I'm far from caring whose the chatter, 
Floating from nowhere, I catch by chance. 
What's done is like a farm in spring 
When wrapped up in a smoking haze. 

I'm far from caring what the cut 

Fashions impose on clothing now. 

Like dreams, they 11 sweep away what's done, 

Cooping up the poet in it. 

Then drifting out through many gaps, 
He'll seep, as does the curling smoke, 
Through all the cracks of this age of doom 
Into an alley just as blind. 

In wisps of smoke he'll then burst free 
From rifts in shattered lives. 
His grandsons will say, as of the peat: 
"The age of so-and-so's aglow." 


Lilnyak (the pseudonym of Boris Vogau), together with Za- 
myatin, was the object, in 1929, of the first Soviet literary 
frame-up. Both writers were accused of having published anti- 
Soviet works in the bourgeois press abroad. Pilnyak's "Mahog- 
any" had indeed been published in Berlin in 1929; until this time 
it had been the standard practice for Soviet authors to simultane- 
ously publish their works abroad to establish copyright. In the 
case of Mahogany, the work had been published in Germany 
without the authors consent. Nevertheless, this was used as a 
pretext to smash the quasi-independent Russian Writers' Associ- 
ation of which Pilnyak was president. After making a groveling 
submission, Pilnyak was permitted to continue working. He re- 
vised Mahogany which later appeared in Russia in the novel The 
Volga Flows into the Caspian Sea (1930) . Unlike Zamyatin, who 
refused to submit, Pilnyak was rewarded for his weakness by 
arrest in 1988. He was sent to a concentration camp during the 
Yezhov period. His ultimate fate is unknown, but he did not 
survive imprisonment and, like so many other Soviet writers 
arrested at that time, he no doubt died in camp. 

By a tragic irony, it appears that Pilnyak intended to give 
Mahogany an anti-Trot sky ist twist, in the spirit of the times. 
He made a political miscalculation in believing that the Bukharin 
"right-wing' line might be followed by Stalin; at the time of writ- 
ing Bukharin's fate had not yet been decided. Readers may note 
one curious aspect of Mahogany, namely, an anticipation of 
Burnham's Managerial Revolution. 

Mahogany, which has never been available to Soviet readers, 
is a splendid example of the ornamental style derived from 
Leskov, Bely, and Remizov. This prose style with its thematic 
repetitions and its peculiar rhythms was characteristic of the So- 
viet twenties, and was subsequently denounced as "formalist." 
The greater part of Mahogany is translated here. Translation 
by Max Hayward. 



The year is 1928. 

The town is a Russian Bruges and a Russian Kamakura. 1 
Three hundred years ago the last Czarevich of the Ryurik 
dynasty was murdered in this town; on the day of the mur- 
der the boyars Tuchkov played with the Czarevich; 2 and 
the Tuchkov family has persisted in the town to this very 
day, as have the monasteries and many other families of less 
distinguished origin. . . . This is the Russia of olden days, 
the provincial Russia of the upper reaches of the Volga with 
its forests, marshes, monasteries, manorial estates, and a 
chain of towns — Tver, Uglich, Yaroslavl, Rostov the Great. 
The town is a monastic Bruges of the Russian principalities, 
of streets sprouting medicinal camomile, of stone monu- 
ments to murders and bygone ages. It is two hundred miles 
from Moscow, but fifty miles from the nearest railroad sta- 

The ruins of manor houses and the wreck of mahogany 
furniture are still to be found here. The curator of the mu- 
seum walks the town in a top hat, morning coat, and 
checked trousers, and he has grown side whiskers like Push- 
kin's. He keeps the keys of the museums and the monaster- 
ies in the pockets of his morning coat; he drinks tea in the 
tavern and vodka in the solitude of his woodshed. In his 
house there are piles of Bibles, icons, archimandrites' hoods, 
miters, cassocks, chasubles, psalters, breviaries, altar cloths, 

1 An ancient Japanese provincial town which Pilnyak visited on his travels. 

2 This reference to the murder of the Czarevich Dmitri, on the orders of 
Boris Godunov, identifies the "Russian Bruges" as Uglich. 


and vestments of the thirteenth, fifteenth, and seventeenth 
centuries. In his study he has some mahogany which once 
belonged to the Karazin family and on his writing table 
there is an ash tray in the form of a nobleman's cap with a 
red band and a white crown. 

Vyacheslav Pavlovich Karazin is a nobleman who once 
served in the Horse Guards. He resigned his commission 
about twenty-five years before the Revolution because he 
was too honest. A colleague of his had got involved in a theft 
and Karazin had been sent to investigate; he reported the 
truth of the matter to the authorities, but the authorities 
had covered up for the thief. Karazin, unable to tolerate 
this, sent in his letter of resignation and retired to his coun- 
try estate. He used to travel to the town once a week in his 
carriage, with two footmen, to do his shopping; with a wave 
of his white glove he would command the salesmen to wrap 
up half a pound of caviar, three quarters of a pound of 
balyk, and a whole sturgeon; one of the footmen would then 
settle the bill while the other collected the purchases. A 
shopkeeper once tried to shake hands with Karazin, but Ka- 
razin repulsed him, saying, "That is unnecessary/' 

Karazin wore a greatcoat of the period of Nicholas I and 
a nobleman's cap. The Revolution had ejected him from his 
country estate and exiled him to the town, but it had left 
him his greatcoat and cap; he wore this cap when he stood 
in queues, now preceded not by his footmen but by his wife. 

Karazin lived off the sale of his antiques; in connection 
with this business he would call on the museum curator. At 
the curator's he recognized certain articles which had been 
confiscated from his country house by the will of the Revo- 
lution; he would glance with contemptuous unconcern at 
these articles, but one day he noticed the ash tray shaped 
like a nobleman's cap. 

"Remove it," he said curtly. 

"Why?" the curator asked. 

"A Russian nobleman's cap cannot serve as a spittoon," 

76 ] Boris Pilnyak 

Karazin replied. The two antiquarians quarreled. Karazin 
departed in a rage. He never crossed the curator's thresh- 
old again. 

There was a saddler in the town who remembered with 
gratitude how Karazin, for whom he had worked as a groom 
in his youth, had knocked out seven of his teeth with a blow 
of his left hand because he had been too slow about some- 

A deep silence hung over the town; the tedium was re- 
lieved once every twenty-four hours by the wail of the 
riverboat's siren and by the pealing of the town's ancient 
bells — that is, until 1928, when the bells were removed from 
many of the churches for the use of the Metallurgical Trust. 
With pulleys, beams, and jute ropes the bells were pulled 
down from their high perches on the belfries and then, 
poised high above the ground, they hurtled down. As they 
were moved slowly by the ropes, the bells still chanted 
their ancient lament. They fell with a roar and a thud, dig- 
ging holes some five feet into the ground. At the time of this 
tale the whole town was full of the moaning of these ancient 

The most important thing in the town was to have a Trade 
Union card; there were two queues in the shops — one for 
those with cards and another for those without them. Row- 
boats on the Volga were rented to people with cards for ten 
kopecks, and to the others for forty kopecks an hour. Movie 
tickets cost some people twenty-five, forty, and sixty ko- 
pecks, but they were sold to card-holders at only five, ten, and 
fifteen kopecks. A Trade Union card, wherever it was shown, 
had priority together with the bread card; the bread card, and 
accordingly bread itself, were issued only to people who 
had the vote — they got four hundred grams a day; the dis- 
enfranchised and their children had no allocation of bread at 
all. The movie house was situated in the Trade Union park, 
in a heated shed; the beginning of the performances was 
announced, not by the customary ringing of a bell, but by 


signals from the power station which reached everybody in 
the town at once. The first signal meant that it was time to 
drink up one's tea and the second that it was time to put on 
one's coat and leave the house. The power station worked 
till one o'clock in the morning, but on the occasion of birth- 
days, "October days," 3 and other such unpredictable festiv- 
ities at the house of the chairman of the Soviet executive 
committee, the chairman of the industrial combine, and 
other such high officials, the electric power would some- 
times be kept on throughout the night and the rest of the 
populace arranged for their own celebrations to coincide 
with these occasions. In the movie house one evening a 
representative of the ministry of Internal Trade, a certain 
Satz (or it may have been Katz), though he was quite so- 
ber, accidentally happened to shove, as the result of an awk- 
ward movement, the wife of the chairman of the exec- 
utive committee and she, with utmost scorn, said to him: "I 
am Kuvarzina." Satz, not having been informed of the power 
of this family, excused himself with an air of surprise and 
was, as a consequence of his surprise, booted out of the dis- 
trict. The leading officials of the town kept very much to 
themselves and, with their inborn suspiciousness, were wary 
of the rest of the population; they conducted public life by 
means of cabals and year after year they re-elected each 
other to the leading posts in the district in accordance with 
arrangements between the different feuding cliques. ... In 
view of the shut-in nature of their life, which proceeded 
in secret from the rest of the populace, the leading officials 
are of no interest for the purposes of this tale. 

The Skudrin house stood by the Skudrin bridge, and the 
house was inhabited by Yakov Karpovich Skudrin, a go- 
between in peasant lawsuits, who was eighty-five years old. 
Apart from Yakov Karpovich Skudrin, there dwelt sep- 
arately from him in the town his two much younger sisters, 

3 In early Soviet times, a substitute for christening in orthodox communist 

78 ] Boris Pilnyak 

Kapitolina and Rimma, and Ivan the outcast, who had 
changed his name to Ozhogov. More will be said of these 

For the last forty years Yakov Karpovich had suffered 
from hernia, and when he walked about, he supported his 
hernia with his right hand through a slit in his trousers. His 
hands were puffy and greenish in color and he would take 
great pinches of salt for his bread from the common salt- 
cellar and, gritting the salt on his teeth, he would carefully 
pour back into the saltcellar any that had been spilled. 
During the last thirty years Yakov Karpovich had lost the 
habit of normal sleep; he used to wake at night and pore 
over the Bible till dawn, and then fall asleep till noon. But 
in the middle of the day he would always go to the public 
reading room to peruse the newspapers — no newspapers 
were sold in the town, for subscription money was short — so 
the papers were read in reading rooms. Yakov Karpovich 
was fat, bald, and quite gray; his eyes were always running, 
and whenever he was about to speak, he always wheezed 
and puffed for a while. The Skudrin house had once be- 
longed to the landowner Vereisky, who had gone bankrupt 
after the emancipation of the serfs while performing his 
duties as an elected justice of the peace. 4 Yakov Karpovich, 
having served his term in the pre-reform army, 5 worked for 
Vereisky as a scribe and learned all there was to be learned 
about legal juggling, and finally he bought Vereisky 's house, 
together with the office of justice of the peace, when the 
landowner went bankrupt. The house had not changed 
since the days of Catherine the Great and in the hundred 
and fifty years of its existence it had grown as dark as its 
mahogany furniture and the windowpanes had turned 
bottle-green. Yakov Karpovich remembered well the days of 
serfdom. The old man remembered everything — the master 

4 After the abolition of serfdom in 1861 there was a legal reform providing 
for the election of law-enforcement officers. 

5 Serfs were often required to serve as long as twenty-five years in the army 
before the Emancipation. 


of the village in which he had been a serf and the recruit- 
ment of conscripts for Sebastopol; for the past fifty years he 
had memorized the Christian names, patronymics, and sur- 
names of every Russian minister and people's commissar, of 
every ambassador to the Imperial Russian Court and to the 
Soviet Central Executive Committee; he remembered all 
the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Great Powers and all 
the Prime Ministers, Kings, Emperors, and Popes. The old 
man had lost count of the years and he would say: "I have 
outlived Nicholas the First, Alexander the Second, Alex- 
ander the Third, Nicholas the Second, and Vladimir Ilyich 
Lenin. And I shall outlive Alexei Ivanovich Rykov!" 6 

The old man had a very nasty smile which was both ob- 
sequious and malicious, and his whitish eyes watered when 
he smiled. The old man was quick-tempered, as were his 
sons as well. The eldest son, Alexander, had once — it was 
long before 1905 — been sent to the steamship office with an 
urgent letter, but he had been late for the steamer and his 
father had slapped his face with the words: "Get out of here, 
you scoundrel!" This was the last straw. The boy was only 
fourteen, but he turned on his heel and left the house, re- 
turning six years later as a student of the Academy of Arts. 
In the meantime his father had sent him a letter command- 
ing him to come home and promising, otherwise, to deprive 
him of his parental blessing and bestow his eternal curse 
upon him. The son scribbled "To hell with your blessing!" 
on this letter, just below his father's signature, and sent the 
epistle straight back to him. When Alexander entered the 
sitting room one sunny morning six years after his departure, 
his father got up to meet him with a gleeful smile and 
with his hand raised to strike him; but, grinning cheerfully, 
the son seized his father by the wrists; he smiled again — 
his smile glowed happily with strength — and he held his 
father's hands in a vise. Pressing slightly on his wrists, he 

6 Rykov, as chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, was the nominal 
successor to Lenin as head of the Soviet State. He was shot in 1938. 

80 ] Boris Pilnyak 

forced him down into an armchair by the table, and then he 

"How are you, papa? Why put yourself out, papa? Sit 
down, papa!" The old man wheezed, giggled, and breathed 
hard; a wicked look of benevolence came over his face and 
he shouted to his wife: 

"Mariushka, yes . . . he-he-he, a little vodka, bring us a 
little vodka, my dove, a little chilled vodka from the cellar 
with some nice cold zakuski. He's grown, our little boy, he's 
grown. He's come back our little boy, to our sorrow, the son 
of a bitch!" 

The eldest son, Alexander, was an artist, and then came 
the other sons: one was a priest, another a doctor, and the 
youngest was an engineer. The two younger brothers took 
after the eldest, Alexander, and their father. Like Alexander 
they had left home, and the engineer, Akim, had become a 
communist. He never went near his father, and whenever he 
came on a visit to the town he always stayed with his aunts, 
Kapitolina and Rimma. By 1928 Yakov Karpovich's oldest 
grandsons were already married, yet his daughter, the 
youngest of his children, was still only twenty. She was the 
only daughter and, in the tumult of the Revolution, she had 
received no education. 

This daughter, Katerina, lived in the house with the old 
man and her mother, Maria Klimovna. In wintertime half 
the house, and the second floor, were not heated. The 
household lived as people lived long before the time of 
Catherine, or even before the time of Peter — though the 
mahogany, which brooded in the house, was only of Cath- 
erine's day. The old couple lived off their garden. Matches, 
kerosene, and salt were the only products of industry in the 
house and the old man controlled the use of all three. 
From spring to the fall Maria Klimovna, Katerina, and he 
tended their cabbages, beets, turnips, cucumbers, carrots, 
and licorice, which they used instead of sugar. In the sum- 
mer one could meet the old man at dawn in his nightclothes, 
barefoot, his right hand thrust into the slit in his trousers and 


his left hand holding a long switch, pasturing his cows in the 
dew and the mist on the outskirts of the town. In wintertime 
he lit the lamp only in his waking hours and at certain times 
his wife and daughter were obliged to sit in the dark. At 
midday the old man went out to read the newspapers in the 
public reading room and there absorbed the names and the 
news of the Communist Revolution. Katerina would then sit 
down at the spinet and practice the hymns of Kastalsky — 
she sang in the church choir. The old man came home at 
dusk, ate his meal, and went to bed. 

The father would wake toward midnight, have something 
to eat, and apply himself to the Bible, reciting aloud from 
memory. At about six in the morning he fell asleep again. 
No longer afraid of either death or life, the old man had lost 
all sense of time. His wife and daughter were silent in his 
presence. The mother cooked gruel and cabbage soup, 
baked pies, made scalded and sour cream, and prepared 
jellied meats from pigs' trotters, putting aside the knuckles 
for her grandchildren 7 — in other words, she lived as Russians 
lived in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even 
the food she cooked went back to those days. Maria Kli- 
movna, very old and shriveled, was a wonderful woman, 
the sort of woman who is still found in the heart of provin- 
cial Russia, together with ancient icons of the Mother of God. 
Fifty years ago, on the day after her wedding, when she had 
donned her rich red velvet jacket, her husband had said: 
"What's that for?" She did not immediately understand and 
he repeated his question: "What's that for? Take it off! I 
know you well enough without these fiddle-faddles and the 
others had better keep their eyes off you!" Then he mois- 
tened his finger and gave her a painful lesson in how she 
should brush her hair back from her temples. The cruel 
will of her husband forced her to put away forever her 
rich red velvet jacket and sent her to work in the kitchen. 
Whether her will was broken by his, or whether she was 

7 These bones — bahki — are used by Russian children for various games. 

82 ] Boris Pilnyak 

tempered by her subjection to it, she was at all times meek 
and dignified, silent and sad, but never devious or dishonest. 
Her world went no farther than the gate and her only path 
beyond it led to the church and the grave. She sang Ka- 
stalsky's hymns together with her daughter. She was sixty- 
nine years old. At night the old man, who was no longer 
afraid of life, declaimed aloud from the Bible. Very rarely 
— every few months or so — the old man would walk to his 
wife's bed, in the silent hours of the night, and whisper: 

"Mariushka, yes . . . ha, h'm . . . yes, h'm, Mariushka, 
this is life, Mariushka !" He held a candle in his hand, his 
eyes watered and twinkled, his hands trembled. 

"Mariushka, he-he . . . here I am, yes . . . That's life, 
Mariushka, he-he!" 

Maria Klimovna made the sign of the cross. 

"Have shame, Yakov Karpovich! . . ." 

Yakov Karpovich put out the light. 

Their daughter Katerina had small yellow eyes, which 
seemed to have been immobilized from endless sleep. All 
year round freckles sprouted around her puffy eyes. Her 
arms and legs were like logs and her bosom was as large as 
the udder of a Swiss cow. 

The town is a Russian Bruges and a Russian Kamakura. 

. . . Moscow rumbled with trucks and deeds, with proj- 
ects and achievements. Automobiles and buildings together 
hurtled into space. Posters blared in the language of Gorky's 
GIZ, 8 of the movies, and of congresses. The din of street cars, 
buses, and taxis proclaimed the capital from end to end. 

A train was departing from Moscow into a night as black 
as soot. The hectic glow and roar of Moscow were dying 
away, and they died very quickly. The fields lay wrapped 
in black silence and this silence came to dwell in the car- 
riage. In a double compartment of a "soft" first-class carriage 
sat two men, the brothers Pavel Feodorovich and Stepan 

8 The State publishing house. 


Feodorovich Bezdetov, connoisseurs and restorers of mahog- 
any furniture. It was impossible to weigh them up from their 
appearance. Like merchants in the days of Ostrovsky, 9 both 
wore frock coats over their Russian tunics, and their faces, 
though clean-shaven, had the Slavonic cast of Yaroslavl. 
Their eyes were vacant, yet shrewd. 

The train went on dragging time across the black expanse 
of the fields. In the carriage there was a smell of tanned 
leather and hemp. Pavel Feodorovich extracted a bottle of 
cognac and a silver liqueur glass from his valise; he poured 
out a glassful and drank it down; he poured out another and 
handed it silently to his brother. His brother emptied the 
glass and passed it back. Pavel Feodorovich put the bottle 
and glass into the valise. 

"Are we buying beadwork?" asked Stepan. 

"Absolutely," replied Pavel. 

Half an hour elapsed in silence. The train dragged time 
with it, halting it only at the stations. Pavel extracted the 
bottle and the glass again, drank, poured out some for his 
brother, and then put them away. 

"Shall we give the girls a treat? And are we buying china?" 
asked Stepan. 

"Absolutely," Pavel replied. 

After another half hour in silence, the brothers drank 

"Are we buying so-called Russian tapestries?" asked Ste- 

"Absolutely," replied Pavel. 

By midnight the train arrived at a village on the Volga 
which is famed throughout Russia for its craft in the making 
of boots. The smell of leather grew stronger and stronger. 
Pavel poured out a last nip for each of them. 

"We're not buying anything later than Alexander the 
First?" asked Stepan. 

"Absolutely not," replied Pavel. 

9 Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886), Moscow dramatist, who in many of his 
plays described the life and manners of the merchant class. 

84 ] Boris Pilnyak 

• • • 

Without speaking a word Pavel Feodorovich hired a cart 
for forty kopecks to take them to the steamship office. 

By midday the steamer arrived in the seventeenth- and 
eighteenth-century Russian Bruges. The town sloped down 
to the Volga with its churches, its citadel, and the ruins left 
over from the fire in 1920, when a good portion of the central 
part of the town had been gutted. The fire had started in the 
Commissariat of Food Supplies. Instead of trying to extin- 
guish the fire, they started tracking down members of the 
local bourgeoisie and put them in prison as hostages. They 
hunted them for three days — for as many days as the town 
burned, and stopped hunting them when the fire had 
burned itself out without any intervention on the part of 
the fire brigade or the population. At the hour when the 
antique dealers disembarked, flocks of frantic jackdaws 
were wheeling over the town, which was filled with the 
weird groan of bells being cast down from their belfries. It 
looked as though there was going to be a bit of rain. 

Without speaking a word Pavel Feodorovich hired a car- 
riage to take them to Yakov Karpovich Skudrin's at Skudrin 
bridge. The carriage rattled over the medicinal camomile of 
the ancient cobbled streets and the coachman told them the 
latest town gossip about the bells, explaining that many 
people's nerves had been shattered by the tension of waiting 
for bells to fall and the thunder of the impact when they 
hit the ground — the same as happens to inexperienced rifle- 
men who shut their eyes to brace themselves for the report. 
When the Bezdetovs arrived, old Yakov Karpovich was in 
the yard, chopping logs for firewood. Maria Klimovna was 
shoveling dung out of the cowshed. Yakov Karpovich did not 
at first recognize them, but when he did, he looked pleased 
and began to smile. Groaning and wheezing, he said: 

"Ah, the dealers! . . . I've got a new theory about the 
proletariat for you!" Maria Klimovna, her hands under her 
apron, gave a low bow and sang out her greeting: 


"Dear guests, a good welcome to you, long-awaited 
guests !" 

Katerina, in a skirt tucked up to her thighs and covered 
with dirt, rushed headlong into the house to change. From 
over the housetops, startling the rooks, came the whine of a 
falling bell. Maria Klimovna crossed herself. The bell thud- 
ded louder than a cannon and the windowpanes tinkled. It 
certainly was enough to set your nerves on edge. 

They all went into the house. Maria Klimovna went to her 
pots and pans and soon the samovar sang out at her feet. 
Katerina came in in her Sunday best and curtsied to the 
visitors. The old man threw off his felt boots and, cooing 
like a dove, walked barefooted around his guests, who went 
to wash up and then sat down side by side at the table, in 
silence. Their eyes were vacant like those of dead men. 
Maria Klimovna inquired after their health and laid out an 
assortment of seventeenth-century food on the table. The 
visitors put a bottle of cognac on the table. Yakov Karpovich 
was the only one to talk. He hummed and hawed and giggled 
as he told the Bezdetov brothers of the places to which they 
should go in search of antiques and which he had noted for 
their benefit. 

"But you yourself won't give in? You're not selling?" in- 
quired Pavel Feodorovich. 

The old man, fidgeting and giggling, replied in a whim- 
pering voice: 

"Yes, yes, seems so. I can't, no, I can't. I'll not part with my 
own. I may need it myself. We shall see what we shall 
see . . . yes, h'm ... I'd better tell you about my theory. 
. . . I'll outlast you all yet!" 

After lunch the guests retired to bed. They closed the 
creaking door, stretched out on the feather beds, and silently 
drank cognac out of old silver cups. By evening they were 
quite drunk. Katerina sang her hymns all afternoon and 
Yakov Karpovich lurked near the visitors' door, hoping they 
might come out or start talking, so that he could drop in and 
have a chat with them. The rooks departed with the day 

86 ] Boris Pilnyak 

which they had been busily pilfering all through sundown, 
and the water carriers came on their evening round, dis- 
tributing the darkness. When the guests came down for tea 
their eyes were quite dead and fixed in a stupefied glaze. 
They sat down at the table, side by side and in silence. To 
be within easy reach of their ears, Yakov Karpovich settled 
himself right behind them. The guests sipped tea from their 
saucers, lacing it with cognac, and unbuttoned their jackets. 
A charcoal brazier of Catherine's day gave off its fumes near 
the dining table, which was round and made of mahogany. 
Yakov Karpovich talked, spluttering in his haste to have 
his say: "I have a new thought for you, run, a new thought. 
. . . Marx's theory about the proletariat will soon be for- 
gotten, because the proletariat itself must disappear: there 
you have it, my thought! ... It follows that the whole 
Revolution was for nothing, a mistake, h m, of history, be- 
cause, yes, in two or three generations the proletariat will 
have disappeared — first of all in the United States, in Eng- 
land, and in Germany. Marx wrote down his theory in the 
age of manual labor. Now machines are taking the place of 
brawn. That's what I think. Before long the machines will be 
tended only by engineers and the proletariat will disappear. 
The proletarians will turn into engineers. That's, h'm, what 
I think. And an engineer is not a proletarian, because the 
more cultured a man is, the less fussy he is about his needs, 
and he finds it easier to five with everyone on a footing of 
material equality, to distribute the goods of this world 
equally in order to set the mind free. Yes, just look at the 
English: rich and poor alike sleep in pajamas and they live 
in the same houses, all of three stories. Just compare how 
the merchants and the peasants used to live in this country, 
with the merchants all dressed up like priests and living in 
palaces. But a man like me can go barefoot and be none 
the worse for it. You may argue, yes, h m, that there will 
still be exploitation, but how can there be exploitation? The 
peasants who can be exploited because they are like wild 
beasts, will not be allowed near the machines — they might 


break them and they cost millions, these machines. Machines 
are too expensive to make petty economies in wages. You've 
got to have a man who knows the machine, and one man 
will do where they used to need a hundred. They'll take 
good care of a man like that. The proletariat will disap- 
pear! . . . 

The visitors drank their tea and listened, their eyes glazed 
and unblinking. Yakov Karpovich snorted and hawked and 
babbled on, but he didn't manage to develop his thought to 
its final conclusion because of the arrival of his brother, Ivan 
the outcast, who had changed his name from Skudrin to 
Ozhogov. He was tidily dressed in a fantastic array of cast- 
off clothing and his hair was neatly clipped. He wore no socks 
under his galoshes. He bowed politely to the company and 
sat down silently a little to one side. Nobody acknowledged 
his bow. His face was that of a madman. Yakov Karpovich 
fidgeted uneasily. 

"And what was it that brought you here, my dear?" Maria 
Klimovna asked in dismay. 

"I've come to see some aspects of the counterrevolution, 
my dear," replied the outcast Ivan. 

"What kind of counterrevolution is there here, my dear?" 

"As far as you are concerned, my dear, it is only your way 
of life which is counterrevolutionary. But you have wept for 
me, which means that you have within yourself the rudi- 
ments of communism. Brother Yakov has never wept and I 
am very sorry that I did not put him up against the wall, 
when I had the chance, and shoot him." 

Maria Klimovna sighed and shook her head. 

"And how's your dear son?" she asked. 

"My dear son," Ivan the outcast answered with pride, "is 
finishing his studies in the university and he has not for- 
gotten me. When he comes on vacation he visits me in my 
domain and warms himself by the furnace while I compose 
revolutionary verse for him." 

"And his wife?" 

"I don't meet her. She manages a Party bureau for women's 

88 ] Boris Pilnyak 

affairs. Do you know how many managers we have for every 
two workers engaged in production?" 


"Seven. With seven nurses, the child runs wild, as the 
proverb says. Your guests, by the way, represent the count- 
errevolution in its historical aspect." 

Glassy-eyed, the visitors drank their tea. Yakov Karpovich, 
swelling with purple rage, began to look like a beet. He 
went toward his brother, and giving a polite giggle, vigor- 
ously rubbed his hands together as though they were very 

"Listen, brother dear," said Yakov Karpovich politely in a 
hoarse voice, "get out of here and go to the devil. I implore 
you from the bottom of my heart! . . ." 

"I beg your pardon, brother Yakov," replied Ivan, "but I 
didn't come to see you. I came to look at the counterrevolu- 
tion in its historical aspect and to engage it in conversation." 

"And I'm asking you to clear off and go to the devil." 

"I shall not go to the devil." 

Pavel Feodorovich Bezdetov slowly turned one glassy eye 
to his brother and said: 

"We cannot talk with cranks. If you don't get out, I shall 
instruct Stepan to remove you by the scruff of your neck." 

Stepan returned his brother's glance and shifted slightly 
in his chair. Maria Klimovna put her face in her hands and 
sighed. Ivan the outcast sat on in silence. Stepan rose reluc- 
tantly from the table and went toward him. The outcast got 
up in fright and retreated backward to the door. Maria 
Klimovna sighed again and Yakov Karpovich giggled. Ste- 
pan stopped halfway across the room and the outcast halted, 
grimacing, by the door. Stepan took another step toward 
him and he went outside. Then from behind the door, he 
said in a begging voice: 

"Well, in that case give me a ruble and twenty-five ko- 
pecks for vodka." Stepan glanced at Pavel and Pavel said: 

"Give him enough for a half -bottle." 

The outcast departed. Maria Klimovna went out of the 


gate to see him off and thrust a piece of pie into his hand. 
Beyond the gate the night was black and still. Ozhogov the 
outcast walked to the Volga down dark side streets, past the 
monasteries and over vacant lots, along paths which he 
alone knew. The night was very black. Ivan talked to him- 
self, muttering indistinctly. He went down to the brickworks 
belonging to the Industrial Combine; here he crawled 
through a gap in the fence and made his way through the 
clay pits. Amid the clay pits was a kiln and it was working. 
Ivan crawled underground into the hollow of the kiln; it 
was hot and stifling here and a red light glowed from cracks 
in the doors of the furnace. Here, on the bare earth, 
sprawled a band of ragged men with matted hair as thick 
as felt: these were Ivan Ozhogov's communists who had a 
tacit agreement with the Industrial Combine whereby they 
fired, without wages, the kiln of the brickworks — the kiln in 
which the bricks were baked — and in return lived here, near 
the furnace, free of charge; these were men for whom time 
had stopped in the period of War Communism 10 and they 
had elected Ivan Ozhogov as their chairman. On the straw 
beside the board which served them as a table three of the 
ragged crew lay resting. 

Ozhogov squatted down beside them, shivered a little as 
one does when warming up after being in the cold, and 
placed the money and the piece of pie on the table. 

"They didn't weep?" asked one of the ragged men. 

"No, they didn't weep," replied Ozhogov. 

They were all silent for a while. 

"Your turn to go, Comrade Ognev," Ozhogov said. 

Two more men with matted beards and mustaches 
crawled into the clay interior of the underground and, in all 
their ragged poverty, slumped on the bare earth, placing 
some money and bread on the boards. Ognev, about forty 
years of age and an old man already, who was lying 
stretched out where it was darkest and warmest, crawled up 

10 The short period (1917-1921) preceding N.E.P., during which there was 
an attempt at the vigorous application of communist principles. 

90 ] Boris Pilnyak 

to the board, counted the money, and climbed out of the 
underground. The rest remained lying or sitting in silence, 
except one of the new arrivals who remarked that they 
would have to load the barge with logs first thing in the 
morning. Before long Ognev returned with bottles of vodka. 
Then the ragged crew moved to the board, pulled out their 
mugs, and sat down in a circle. Comrade Ognev poured a 
round of vodka; they clinked their mugs and drained them 
in silence. 

"Now I shall speak/' Ozhogov declared. "There were the 
brothers Wright, and they decided to fly into the sky, and 
they perished, crashing to earth after falling from the sky. 
They perished, but their cause was not abandoned; men 
reached for the sky and grasped it, and men are flying now, 
comrades, they are flying above the earth like birds, like 
eagles! Comrade Lenin perished like the Wright brothers. 
In our town I was the first chairman of the Soviet executive 
committee. In twenty-one everything came to an end. The 
only real communists left in the whole town are we and the 
only place left to us is this underground. I was the first com- 
munist in the town and a communist I shall remain until my 
dying day. Our ideas shall not perish. And what ideas they 
were! Now no one remembers them, comrades, except us. 
We are like the Wright brothers! . . ." 

Comrade Ognev poured out another round of vodka and, 
interrupting Ozhogov, said: 

"I'll tell you, chairman! The great things we did! the way 
we fought! I was in command of a partisan unit. We 
marched through a forest for a day and a night, and then 
another day and another night. And at dawn what do we 
hear? Machine guns!" 

Ognev was interrupted by Pozharov, who asked: 

"And when you use your saber how do you hold your 
thumb, straight or bent?" 

"Against the blade. Straight," Ognev replied. 

"That's what they all do. Here, show me on this knife, 
show me how you do it!" 


Ognev took the cobbler's knife which they used to cut 
bread and demonstrated how he placed his thumb on the 

"That's the wrong way!" Pozharov cried out. "That's not 
how I hold it — it cuts like a razor when I use it. Here, I'll 
show you, you've got it all wrong!" 

"Comrades!" said Ozhogov softly, his face wincing with 
pain and madness. "We must talk of ideas today, of great 
ideas, and not about saber-slashing!" 

A fourth man interrupted Ozhogov, shouting: 

"Comrade Ognev! You were in the Third Division and I 
was in the Second. Do you remember how you missed the 
crossing near the village of Shinky? . . ." 

"We missed it? No, it was you who missed it, not we! . . ." 

"Comrades!" Ozhogov again interjected in a voice at once 
calm and insane. "We must speak about ideas! . . ." 

By midnight these ragged men who had asserted their 
right to live underground in the kiln of the brickworks were 
already asleep in their subterranean shelter next to the fur- 
nace. They slept all in a heap, the head of one resting in the 
lap of another, and rags were their only covering. The last 
to fall asleep was their chairman, Ivan Ozhogov. He had 
lain for a long time with a sheet of paper near the mouth of 
the furnace. He lay on his stomach, with the sheet spread on 
the ground. Licking the point of his pencil, he tried to write 
verse. "We raised a world . . ." he wrote and crossed it out. 
"We lighted a world . . ." he wrote and crossed it out. "You 
who warm your thievish hands," he wrote and crossed it out. 
"You, be ye lackeys or lunatics," he wrote and crossed it out. 
The right words did not come. He fell asleep, dropping his 
head on the scribbled sheet of paper. Here slept the com- 
munists who answered the call of War Communism and 
who had been disbanded in nineteen hundred and twenty- 
one, men of arrested ideas, madmen and drunkards who in 
their underground refuge and in their labor of unloading 
barges and sawing timber had created for themselves a strict 
brotherhood, a strict communism, men who possessed noth- 

92 ] Boris Pilnyak 

ing for themselves, neither money nor belongings nor wives 
— their wives had left them to their dreams, their madness, 
and their alcohol. It was very stifling in the underground, 
very hot and very bare. 

Midnight descended on the town, as turgid and as black 
as the history of these parts. 

At midnight, Stepan, the younger of the two antique- 
dealers, stopped Katerina on the staircase leading to the 
second floor, touched her shoulders, which were as strong as 
a horse's, felt them with his drunken hand, and said in a 
low voice: 

"Go and tell your sisters . . . you know . . . we'll do it 
again. They should find a place, tell them . . ." 

Katerina stood there meekly and meekly whispered back: 

"Very good. I'll tell them." 

Downstairs at that minute Yakov Karpovich was unfold- 
ing his theory of civilization to Pavel Feodorovich. On the 
round table in the sitting room stood a glass and bronze 
frigate which had been specially adapted as a receptacle for 
liquor; dispensed through a tap into glasses and thence to 
human throats, the liquor enabled one to journey on the 
frigate through the world of fantasy. The frigate was an 
eighteenth-century object. It was filled with cognac. Pavel 
Feodorovich sat in silence. Yakov Karpovich fussed around 
him, strutting like a pigeon and holding his hernia through 
the slit in his trousers. 

"Yes, h'm," he was saying, "what is it then in your opinion 
that makes the world go round, and civilization and science 
and steamships? Well, what?" 

"Well, what?" Pavel Feodorovich repeated the question. 

"Well, what do you think? Labor? Knowledge? Hunger? 
Love? No! The prime mover of civilization is memory! Just 
think what it would be like if tomorrow morning men were 
to lose their memory. They still have their instincts and their 
reason, but no memory. I wake up in bed and fall out of it, 
because I know of space only from memory and without 
memory I am ignorant of it. My trousers are lying on a chair 


and I feel cold, but I don't know what to do with my trousers. 
I don't know how to walk — on my hands or on all fours. I 
do not remember the previous day and since I am ignorant 
of it, I have no fear of death. The engineers have forgotten 
the whole of their higher mathematics, and all the streetcars 
and locomotives are at a standstill. Priests don't know the 
way to their churches and they remember nothing of Jesus 
Christ. Yes, h'm! ... I have my instincts left, and it's true 
that they're a sort of memory, but suppose I don't know 
whether to eat the chair or the bread left on it overnight 
and suppose, when I see a woman, I take my daughter for 
my wife?" 

With northeast winds the alcohol-laden frigate on the ta- 
ble was blowing the cobwebs from Yakov Karpovich's mind. 
Amidst the mahogany of the sitting room, this Russian Vol- 
taire and his frigate were relics of the eighteenth century. A 
provincial Soviet night held sway outside these eighteenth- 
century windows. 

An hour later the Skudrin house was asleep. And then, 
in the musty silence of his bedroom, Yakov Karpovich 
shuffled in his slippers over to Maria Klimovna's bed. The 
old woman was sleeping. The candle trembled in Yakov 
Karpovich's hand. He giggled and touched Maria Klimo- 
vna's shoulder, which was as dry and shriveled as parch- 
ment, and his eyes grew moist with pleasure. 

"Mariushka," he whispered, "this is life, Mariushka, this is 
life." The eighteenth century vanished in Voltairean dark- 

In the morning church bells again went to their doom and 
howled and were smashed to smithereens. The Bezdetov 
brothers woke early, but Maria Klimovna had got up even 
earlier and hot pies with onion and mushrooms were served 
with the morning tea. Yakov Karpovich was still in bed. 
Katerina looked sleepy. Tea was drunk in silence. The day 
rose up gray and sluggish. After breakfast the Bezdetov 
brothers went off to their work. Pavel Feodorovich drew up 
on a piece of paper a list of all the houses and families they 

94 ] Boris Pilnyak 

had to visit. The streets lay mute amidst the provincial pave- 
ments, the brick walls, the weeds growing under them, the 
elder bushes in the ruins left from the great fire, the 
churches and the bell towers. The silence of the streets was 
deafened by the whining of the bells and it shrieked when 
they smashed to the ground. 

The Bezdetovs walked silently, side by side, into the 
houses they visited and their eyes were blank as they looked 

Vyacheslav Pavlovich Karazin was lying on a sofa in the 
dining room; he was covered by an impossibly worn jacket 
made of squirrel fur. The dining room and the combined 
study and bedroom which he shared with his wife pre- 
sented the spectacle of an antique shop housed in the 
cramped quarters of a post office clerk. The Bezdetov broth- 
ers paused in the doorway and bowed. Karazin studied them 
for some time and then he roared: 

"Get out! Swindlers! Get out of here!" 

The brothers did not budge. 

"Out of my sight, scoundrels!" barked Karazin once more, 
the blood rushing to his face. 

His wife appeared at the shout. The Bezdetov brothers 
bowed to Madame Karazin and left the room. 

"Nadine, I cannot bear to see these rogues," Karazin said 
to his wife. 

"Very well, Vyacheslav. Go into the study and 111 talk with 
them. You know the situation," Madame Karazin replied. 

"They've disturbed my rest. Very well, I'll go to the study. 
Only mind you, no familiarity with these menials." 

Karazin left the room, trailing his squirrel jacket after 
him. The Bezdetov brothers returned on his heels and once 
more they bowed politely. 

"Show us your Russian tapestries and tell us what you 
want for the secretaire," said Pavel Feodorovich. 

"Take a seat, gentlemen," said Madame Karazin. 

The door of the study flew open and Karazin thrust his 


head out. Averting his eyes to the windows — so that they 
should not by accident fall upon the Bezdetovs — he shouted: 

"Nadine, don't let them sit down! How can they possibly 
understand the beauty of art! Don't offer them a choice! Sell 
them only what we see fit to sell! Let them have the porce- 
lain clock, and the bronze stuff! . . ." 

"We can leave, if you like," said Pavel Feodorovich. 

"Oh, just a minute, gentlemen. Allow Vyacheslav Pavlo- 
vich to calm down, he's very ill," said Madame Karazin, sit- 
ting down helplessly at the table. "Oh dear, gentlemen, we 
simply have to sell off a few things! . . . Vyacheslav Pavlo- 
vich, I beg you, shut the door, don't listen to us, go for a 
walk. . . ." 

In the evening, when the jackdaws had torn the day to 
shreds and the falling bells had ceased their whine, the 
Bezdetov brothers returned home and dined. After dinner 
Yakov Karpovich went out on an expedition. In his pocket he 
had money and a list given to him by the Bezdetovs. The 
old man donned his broad felt hat, his sheepskin jacket, and 
his leggings. He was going to see the carpenter and the 
carter, obtain ropes and matting, and make all the necessary 
arrangements for the packing of the purchases and their 
transport to the wharf for dispatch to Moscow. The old man 
knew his business and on leaving he said: 

"We should give the job to the down-and-outs in the brick- 
works : they're as honest as the day is long, crackpots though 
they may be. But we can't. Their revolutionary-in-chief, 
brother Ivan, would never hear of them doing a job for 
the counterrevolution, he-he-he! . . ." 

The Bezdetov brothers settled down to rest in the sitting 
room and night was settling on the earth. Throughout the 
evening people came and knocked furtively on Maria Kli- 
movna's window. Katerina would go out to see them, and 
fawning like beggars, the people would say: "Your visitors 
buy all kinds of antiques, don't they?" and they offered old 
ruble and kopeck coins, broken lamps, ancient samovars, 

96 ] Boris Pilnyak 

books, and candlesticks. These people, who were poverty- 
stricken in all respects, knew nothing of antiques. Katerina 
did not allow them to come into the house with their brass 
candlesticks and proposed that they leave their stuff until 
the morning when the visitors, having rested, would look at 

At about eight o'clock Katerina asked her mother's per- 
mission to go out for the evening — first to choir practice 
and then to visit a friend. She put on her best clothes and 
left the house. Half an hour later Pavel Feodorovich and his 
brother Stepan followed her out into the rain. Katerina was 
waiting for them on the other side of the bridge. Stepan 
Feodorovich took Katerina's arm, and they walked in the 
pitch dark along a path which ran by the side of a ravine 
to the outskirts of the town, where Yakov Karpovich's old 
sisters, Kapitolina and Rimma, had their house. Katerina 
and the Bezdetovs crept into the yard like thieves and, like 
thieves, slipped through the garden. In the depths of the 
garden stood a solitary bathhouse. 

Katerina knocked and the door was half opened. A light 
was burning in the bathhouse and three girls were waiting 
for the guests. They had covered up all the chinks in the 
windows with curtains and moved the table to the brick 
steps in the middle of the bathhouse. The girls were in their 
Sunday best and they greeted their visitors with great cere- 

The Bezdetov brothers drew bottles of cognac and port 
wine, brought with them from Moscow, out of their pockets. 

On the table, which was covered with paper, the girls laid 
out salami, sprats, candy, tomatoes, and apples. Klavdia, the 
eldest of them, produced a bottle of vodka from behind the 
stove. They all spoke in whispers. The Bezdetov brothers sat 
down side by side on the brick steps, where an iron lantern 
was burning. Within an hour the girls were drunk, yet even 
so they continued to speak in whispers. When people are 
drunk — and this is particularly true of women — the expres- 


sion induced by alcohol tends, the drunker they get, to be- 
come fixed on their faces. Klavdia was sitting at the table, 
propping her head on her hands like a man; her teeth were 
bared in a fixed grin of contempt. Sometimes her head 
slipped from her hands and then she would tear her bobbed 
hair, without feeling pain. She smoked one cigarette after 
another and drank cognac. She was crimson-cheeked and 
beautiful in a monstrous way. Disgustedly she said: 

"I'm drunk? All right, I'm drunk. What of it? Tomorrow 111 
be teaching in school again. But what do I know? What the 
hell am I teaching? And at six o'clock I go to a parents' 
meeting that I called myself. Look at my notebook here, I've 
got it all down. ... So I'm drinking . . . well, what the 
hell . . . and now I'm drunk. And who the hell are you? 
Relatives of mine or something? You buy mahogany? An- 
tiques? And you want to buy us as well, with wine? You 
think I don't know the facts of life, but I know 'em all right! 
Going to have a kid before long . . . don't know who the 
father is . . . but what the hell!" 

The lips were drawn back from her teeth and her eyes 
had a fixed stare. Pavel was pestering Zina, the youngest of 
the girls. She was a short-legged giggly girl with very flaxen 
hair. Her legs apart and her arms akimbo, she sat on a 
wooden block at some distance from the others. Pavel Feo- 
dorovich was saying: 

"I bet you daren't take off your blouse, Zina, I bet you 
daren't undo your brassiere!" 

Zina held her hand pressed to her mouth so as not to burst 
into loud laughter and she replied with a giggle : 

"Yes, I dare!" 

"No, you daren't." 

Klavdia said with contempt: 

"She'll do it all right. Show 'em your tits, Zinka! Let 'em 
have a good look. Want to see mine as well? You think I'm 
drunk, don't you? Well, I'm not. I've not been drunk since 
the last time you came. Today I just wanted to get boiled. 

98 ] Boris Pilnyak 

Boiled, you understand? Boiled, boiled, boiled! So what the 
hell? Show 'em your tits, Zina! You show 'em to your Kolya, 
don't you? . . . Want to see mine as well?" 

Klavdia ripped at the collar of her blouse. The other girls 
rushed over to her and Katerina said soberly: 

"Klavdia, don't tear your clothes, or they'll find out at 

Zina had difficulty in standing up. Klavdia caught hold of 
Zina and put her arms round her. Klavdia kissed her. 

"I mustn't tear my clothes? All right, I won't. . . . You 
show them yours, then. Let them have a good look. We've 
got no prejudices here! ... So you buy mahogany?" 

"All right, I'll show them," said Zina obediently, and she 
began to unbutton her blouse in a businesslike way. 

The fourth girl went outside to be sick. 

The Bezdetovs, of course, felt that this was just another 
deal. Buying and selling was all they knew about. 

It was raining outside and the trees rustled in the wind. 
At this same hour Karazin was having one of his fits of senile 
hysteria and the down-and-outs in the brickworks, sitting by 
the furnace in their underground, were praising, with the 
eyes and voices of the madmen, the year nineteen hundred 
and nineteen, when everything — both bread and labor — 
was shared in common, when there was neither past nor 
future, when people lived for ideas and when there was no 
money, because money was not needed. 

An hour later the bathhouse was empty. The Bezdetov 
brothers went home and so did the drunken women, creep- 
ing silently into their beds. A notebook remained lying on 
the bathhouse floor. In it was written: "Call parents' meeting 
for 6 p.m. on the 7th." "At the trade-union meeting suggest 
subscription of month's salary to the industrialization loan." 
"Ask Alexander Alexeyevich to go through the A.B.C. of 
communism again." 

In the early morning the bells set up their whine again 
and carts laden with mahogany of the time of Catherine, 
Paul, and Alexander lumbered down to the wharf under the 


supervision of Yakov Karpovich. The Bezdetov brothers 
slept till noon. By this time a crowd had gathered in the 
kitchen, eager to learn the fate of their old rubles, lamps, 
and candlesticks. 

The town is a Russian Bruges. 

About the time of which we are speaking, a couple of days 
after the arrival of the Bezdetov brothers, the engineer 
Akim Skudrin, the youngest son of Yakov Karpovich, also 
visited the town. He did not go to his father's, but stayed 
with his aunts, Kapitolina and Rimma. Akim did not come 
on business, it was just that he happened to have a free 

Kapitolina Karpovna went up to her window. What a 
backwater it was! The wall of crumbling red brick ran to an 
ocher-colored house with a belvedere at one corner, and to 
a church at the other; and further on were a square, a weigh- 
bridge, and another church. It was raining. A pig was sniff- 
ing at a puddle. A water carrier came around the corner. 
Klavdia went out of the gate in chamois leather boots, and a 
black overcoat that reached down to her ankles; a blue ker- 
chief was tied around her head. With her head bent down, 
she crossed the street, walked along the crumbling wall, and 
turned the corner on the square. Kapitolina's eyes, shin- 
ing brightly, followed Klavdia for some time. In the next 
room Rimma Karpovna was feeding her granddaughter, the 
daughter of her eldest child, Varvara. The room was very 
bare and spotlessly clean; it was very tidy and had that air 
of having been lived in for many years — it was all that one 
could expect of an old maid's room. It was furnished with 
an old maid's narrow bed, a worktable, and a tailor's dummy, 
and there were curtains on the windows. Kapitolina Kar- 
povna went into the dining room. 

"Rimma dear, let me feed the little one. I saw Klavdia go 
out. Has Varvara gone too?" 

The two old ladies, Kapitolina and Rimma, came of a long 

100 ] Boris Pilnyak 

line of much respected townsfolk and they were seam- 
stresses and dressmakers of good standing. Their life was as 
simple as the life lines on the palms of their left hands. There 
was only a year between them, and Kapitolina was the elder. 
Kapitolina had lived a life of righteousness in the best tradi- 
tions of her class. She had lived it in full view of her fellow 
citizens and in full accord with the standards which ruled 
them. She was a highly respectable member of her class. 
And not only she herself knew, but the whole town knew, 
that all her Saturday evenings had been spent at vespers, 
that she had passed every weekday of her life stooped over 
the hems and stitches of shirts and blouses — countless thou- 
sands of them — and that never, never had she been kissed 
by a stranger. But only she knew those thoughts and that 
pain of the soured wine of life by which the heart is with- 
ered. She had lived through all the seasons of her life— child- 
hood and youth and the later years — but never once had she 
been loved and never once had she sinned in secret. By 
the standards of the town she was a paragon — a virgin and 
an old maid whose life had gone rancid in service to chastity, 
God, and the ways of her fathers. The life of her sister 
Rimma, who was also a seamstress, had taken a different 
turn. It had happened twenty-eight years before and lasted 
three years — three years of shame that had clung to her for 
the rest of her life. It had happened in the days when 
Rimma, already turned thirty, was losing her freshness and 
sowing the seeds of despair. At that time there was a Treas- 
ury official in the town, a good-looking fellow who took part 
in local dramatics, and a prize swine. He had a wife and 
children and drank like a fish. Rimma fell in love with him 
and was unable to resist the consequences of her love. 
Everything about it was shameful. This love affair was a 
total disgrace from the standpoint of the local conventions; it 
was disastrous from beginning to end. All around there were 
woods where it could have been carried on in secret, but 
she chose to yield herself to this man one night in one of 
the main streets, and not once during the three years of her 


shame did she meet the man in privacy, preferring assigna- 
tions in a neighboring wood, in the street, in an empty tum- 
bledown house, or in a derelict barge. Yakov Karpovich dis- 
owned his sister and threw her out of the house, and even 
Kapitolina turned against her. She was pointed out in the 
street and ostracized. The lawful wife of the Treasury official 
used to come and slap her face and egged on the local boys 
to do likewise. The town, by virtue of all its laws and con- 
ventions, sided with the legal wife. Rimma gave birth to a 
daughter, Varvara, who was the very incarnation of her 
shame and the witness thereof. Klavdia, her second daugh- 
ter, was a further witness to her disgrace. The Treasury 
official left the town and Rimma, now well over thirty, was 
left with the two small children to live a life of abject poverty 
and shame. Varvara, the elder daughter, was now married — 
very happily married — and had two children of her own, the 
granddaughters of Rimma Karpovna. Varvara's husband 
worked in an office and so did Varvara herself. Rimma 
Karpovna, as the founder of the family, now had quite a 
large household on her hands. The good woman was now 
well pleased with life. Old age had shrunk her, but happi- 
ness had rounded her out. Small and plump, she had kind, 
lively eyes. As for her sister Kapitolina, she was completely 
preoccupied by the life of Rimma, Varvara, Klavdia, and the 
granddaughters. All her chastity and all her decency in the 
eyes of the town had proved to be pointless and she had no 
life of her own. 

"Let me feed the little one," she said. "I saw Klavdia go 
out. Has Varvara gone too?" 

In the provincial backwater outside autumn rain was fall- 
ing. The door creaked in the hall and a man's boots stamped 
on the floor to shake off the dirt and the mud. He came into 
the room and stared round helplessly as do all shortsighted 
people without their spectacles. It was the engineer Akim 
Yakovlevich Skudrin and he looked exactly like his father 
thirty years back. He had come for no particular purpose 
that anybody knew of. 

102 ] Boris Pilnyak 

"Greetings to you, my dear aunts!" he cried, kissing Aunt 
Rimma first of all. 

Here was the Russia of the provinces with its autumn rain 
and its samovars. 

. . . Akim had come for no particular purpose. His aunts 
greeted him with a samovar, some pancakes made in the 
twinkling of an eye, and all the hospitality of rural Russia. 
Akim did not call on his father, nor did he visit the local 
officials. Dying bells whined over the rooftops and the 
streets bloomed with medicinal camomile. Akim left after 
twenty-four hours, having established that he had no need of 
his birthplace and that the town had no use for him. He 
spent the day with his aunts, roaming in memory with all its 
vanities, partaking of the dire poverty of his aunts, sharing 
their thoughts, their cares, and their dreams. The arrange- 
ment of the furniture was much the same as it had been 
twenty or twenty-five years ago, and the tailor's dummy, 
which had frightened him in childhood, frightened him no 
longer. At dusk Klavdia came home from the school. The 
two cousins — the difference in age was ten years or so — sat 
down side by side on the sofa. 

"How's life?" asked Akim. 

After some small talk Klavdia told Akim of her main pre- 
occupation. She spoke very simply. She was very beautiful 
and quite calm. The twilight dragged on slowly into the 

"I should like your advice," Klavdia ventured. Tm having 
a child. I don't know what to do. I don't know who the father 

"How do you mean, you don't know who the father is?" 

"I'm twenty-four," Klavdia replied. "In the spring I de- 
cided to become a woman and now I am one." 

Akim was at a loss for further questions. 

"I was absorbed not by love, but by myself and my own 
feelings," Klavdia continued. "I picked different men in 
order to get to know everything. I didn't want to get preg- 
nant. Sex is a joy in itself and I didn't think of a child. But 


I am pregnant and I've decided not to have an abortion." 

"And you don't know who the man is?" 

"I'm not certain who it is. But that isn't important. I'm a 
mother now. I'll manage somehow and the state will help me. 
And as for morality, I just don't know what it is. It doesn't 
make sense to me any more. Or rather, I've got my own 
morality. I can only answer for myself and through myself. 
What's immoral about giving yourself to a man? I know 
exactly what I want and I don't have to answer to anybody. 
Do I know the man, you ask. I don't want to involve him. 
A husband's all right when you really need him and when 
he's not tied in any way. I don't want a fellow who just 
walks round the house in his slippers and gives me kids. 
People will help me out — I believe in people. People like 
you when you've got a sense of your own dignity and when 
you don't want to impose on them in any way. And the state 
will help me too. I went with the men I liked simply because 
I wanted to. I'll soon have a son or a daughter. At the mo- 
ment I don't give myself to anybody, because I don't need it. 
Yesterday I got drunk for the last time. I'm just telling you 
what I think as it comes into my head. I hate myself for 
getting drunk yesterday, but I may need a father for the 
child. You ran away from your father and I never had one, 
or rather I heard nothing but bad of him, and this made 
me very mad when I was a child and I was angry with my 
mother. Yet all the same I've decided not to have an abor- 
tion. My womb is full of the child. It's an even greater joy 
than ... I am young and strong!" 

Akim found it hard to collect his thoughts. Before him on 
the floor lay patchwork rugs, proclaiming the poverty of 
life in a small provincial town. Klavdia was strong and beau- 
tiful and very self-possessed. It was drizzling outside. As a 
communist Akim liked to think that a new way of life was 
in the making, but the old way was so hallowed by time. 
Klavdia's view of morality was both new and extraordinary 
for him, but if that was how she saw things, perhaps she was 
right. Who knows? 

104 ] Boris Pilnyak 

"Have your child then," he said. 

Klavdia nestled against him, put her head on his shoulder, 
tucked up her feet, becoming limp and cozy. 

"The body is everything for me," she said. "I love eating, 
I love bathing, I love physical exercise. I love it when our 
dog Sharik licks my hands and feet. I get pleasure from 
scratching my knees till the blood comes. . . . And the 
life all around us is so vast. I can't make head or tail of it, 
and I can't make any sense of the Revolution either, but I 
don't mind. I believe in life and in the Revolution and that's 
all that matters. I only understand the things that concern 
me personally and I couldn't care less about anything else." 

A cat walked over the carpet and, in a familiar movement, 
jumped onto Klavdia's lap. It had grown dark outside. In 
the room next door a lamp was lit and a sewing machine 
began to rattle. Darkness descended on the world. 

That evening Akim went to see his uncle Ivan, the uncle 
who had changed his name from Skudrin to Ozhogov. The 
outcast came out of the kiln to meet his nephew. The earth 
is constantly being churned up in the neighborhood of a 
brickworks, the roofs of brick sheds are long and low and 
a brickworks always has an air of ruin and mystery. Ivan the 
outcast was drunk. It was impossible to talk with him, but 
he was very, very glad that his nephew had come to see him. 
Shaking like a dog, he kept his feet with difficulty. 

He took his nephew into one of the brick sheds. 

"You've come, you've come," he whispered, pressing his 
trembling hands to his trembling breast. 

He gave his nephew a seat on an upturned wheelbarrow. 

"They've kicked you out?" he said jubilantly. 

"Kicked me out of where?" asked Akim. 

"Out of the Party," said Ivan. 


"No? They haven't?" Ivan asked again and a note of sad- 
ness crept into his voice, but he added cheerfully: 

"Well, they haven't done it yet, but they will sooner or 


later. All the Leninists and all the Trotskyists will go. Theyll 
all be kicked out!" 

Ivan Karpovich now went into a delirium and in his de- 
lirium he spoke about his commune, about his having been 
the first chairman of the executive committee of the local 
Soviet, about those awesome years that had gone never to 
return, about how he had been cast off by the Revolution 
and was now a pilgrim among men, enjoining them to weep, 
remember, and love; he spoke again of his commune with its 
brotherhood and equality. Communism, he affirmed, was 
above all a matter of love, of solicitude for others, of friend- 
ship, fellowship, and labor done in common. Communism 
meant the renunciation of material things, and true com- 
munism was love and, above all, respect for one's fellow 
men. The neat little man shivered in the wind and fingered 
the collar of his jacket with his thin, trembling hands. The 
yard of the brickworks proclaimed havoc and destruction. 
The engineer Akim Skudrin was flesh of the flesh of Ivan 
Ozhogov . . . beggars and tramps, wandering cripples, 
and vagabond monks, the feeble-minded and the halt and 
the lame, prophets and seers and holy madmen — these were 
the leaven of life in the Holy Russia which has gone for- 
ever, a brotherhood in Christ which prayed for the world. 
The man who stood before the engineer Akim was a beggar 
and an outcast, a holy fool of Soviet Russia who prayed for 
the world, for justice, and for communism. Uncle Ivan was 
probably deranged. His particular point of lunacy was to 
walk the town calling on people he knew and on strangers, 
urging them to weep. He delivered wild and fiery speeches 
on communism as a result of which many people in the 
marketplaces did indeed weep. He visited the local officials 
in their offices, and it was rumored in the town that on 
these occasions the officials smeared their eyes with onion 
in order to win, through this outcast from the brickworks, the 
popularity which they so sorely needed. Ivan was fright- 
ened of churches but not of priests and he cursed them to 

106 ] Boris Pilnyak 

their faces. His slogans were the most left-wing in the town. 
He was respected, as it has always been the custom in 
Russia throughout the centuries to respect those holy fools 
out of whose mouths speak truth and justice and who, for 
the sake of truth and justice, are prepared to lay down their 
lives. Ivan drank, destroying himself with alcohol. He had 
gathered around him men of his own kind: men who had 
been created by the Revolution only to be rejected by it. 
They had taken refuge underground and they practiced 
true communism, brotherhood, equality, and fellowship. 
Each of them had his own particular madness: one wanted 
to enter into correspondence with the proletarians of Mars, 
another proposed that all the full-grown fish in the Volga 
should be caught and steel bridges built over the river out 
of the proceeds of their sale, while a third man had a bee 
in his bonnet about constructing a streetcar system. 

"Weep!" said Ivan. 

Akim, lost in his thoughts, did not at first understand. 

"What do you say?" he asked. 

"Weep, Akim, weep this very minute for the commu- 
nism that is lost!" Ivan shouted, pressing his hands to his 
breast and lowering his head as though in prayer. 

"Yes, yes, I am weeping, Uncle Ivan," said Akim. 

Akim was a tall, strong, and hulking man. He came up 
close to his uncle and kissed him. 

The rain lashed down. The murky brickworks proclaimed 
havoc and destruction. 


In 1946, Zoshchenko, Anna Akhmatova, and Boris Pasternak 
were denounced for infringing the canons of socialist realism 
laid down by A. A. Zhdanov at the first Congress of Soviet 
Writers in 1934. They were accused of writing works devoid of 
political and ideological content, and of demoralizing Soviet 
youth by their pessimism. The journals in which they had pub- 
lished their works during the war (Zvezda and Leningrad) were 
the subject of a special decree of the Central Committee of the 
Communist Party. The head of the Soviet Union of Writers at 
that time, N. Tikhonov, together with the editors of these jour- 
nals, lost their jobs. One of the works mentioned in the decree 
was Zoshchenko's "Before Sunrise," which had been published 
in two installments in Oktyabr, in 1943. 

"Before Sunrise" is an exercise in self-analysis — unique in Rus- 
sian literature — that Zoshchenko attempted by writing down the 
most vivid and compelling episodes in his life until 1926. Explic- 
itly under the influence of Freud, the humorist hoped in this way 
to find some clue to his own relentless unhappiness. He regarded 
the episodes he describes as "snapshots" which explains their 
partial incoherence. 

In the first installment, of which this excerpt covers the years 
1920-1926, Zoshchenko describes his checkered career in the 
immediate postr evolutionary years. Besides a brief spell as a de- 
tective, mentioned here, he was successively a carpenter, a tele- 
phone operator, a shoemakers assistant, a militiaman, a gambler, 
and an actor. 

Zoshchenko died in 1958, apparently unf or given, unrepentant, 
and unhonored. An edition of his collected works, however, was 
published in Leningrad in 1960, in an edition of 150,000 copies. 
Translation by John Richardson. 


Before Sunrise 

"If I'd been a friend of luck, I vow 

I certainly wouldn't he doing this now.' 

House of the Arts 

This house is on the corner of the Moika Canal and the Nev- 
sky Prospect. 

I walk up and down a corridor waiting for the literary 
evening to start. 

The fact that I'm an inspector in the criminal investiga- 
tion department means nothing. I already have two critical 
articles and four stories to my credit. And they have all 
been very well received. 

I walk along the corridor and look at the writers. 

Here comes A. M. Remizov. He's small and ugly like a 
monkey. His secretary is with him. A cloth tail sticks out 
from under the secretary's jacket. It's a symbol. Remizov is 
the Dean of the "Free Monkey Parliament." E. I. Zamyatin's 
standing over there. His face is rather shiny. He's smiling. 
He's holding a long cigarette in a long elegant holder. 

He's talking to someone in English. 

Here's Shklovsky. He's wearing a Central Asian skullcap. 
He has an intelligent and impudent face. He's arguing vehe- 
mently with someone. He can't see anyone but himself and 
his adversary. 

I say hello to Zamyatin. 

Turning toward me, he says: 

"Blok's here. You wanted to see him. . . ." 

Zamyatin and I go into a dingy room. 


A man is standing by the window. He has a deeply tanned 
face, a high forehead, and light, wavy, almost curly hair. 

He's standing surprisingly still. He's looking at the lights 
of the Nevsky Prospect. He doesn't turn around when we go 

"Alexander Alexandrovich," says Zamyatin. 

I have never seen such empty, lifeless eyes. I never 
thought that a face could express such sadness and apathy. 

Turning slowly around, Blok looks at us. 

Blok holds out his hand — it is limp and lifeless. 

I feel awkward at having disturbed a man lost in his ob- 
livion. . . . I mumble an apology. 

Blok asks me in a rather dull voice: 

"Will you be speaking at the evening?" 

"No," I say. "I've come to listen to the others." 

Apologizing once again, I leave hurriedly. 

Zamyatin is left with Blok. 

Again I walk along the corridor. An emotion is stifling me. 
I almost know my fate now. I see the finale of my life. I see 
the misery which will inevitably stifle me. 

I ask someone: "How old is Blok?" I receive the answer: 
"About forty." 

Fancy, not yet forty! But Byron was thirty when he said: 

It is that weariness which springs 

From all I meet, or hear or see? 

To me no pleasure Beauty brings 

Thine eyes have scarce a charm for me . . . 

Byron did not put a question mark at the end of the sec- 
ond line. It is I who am mentally asking the question. I 
wonder whether this is really "that weariness." The literary 
evening begins. 

The Cafe "Twelve' 

This cafe is at 12 Sadovaya Street. I sit there at a table with 
my friends. 

110 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

Drunken shouting, noise, and tobacco smoke all around 

A violin is playing. 
I mutter Blok's verse: 

I will again befriend the tavern fiddle . . . 

I will again drink wine . . . 

I still won't have the strength to reach the end 

With a sober, sad smile, beyond which 

Is the terror of the grave, the anxiety of a corpse . . . 

A man comes to our table, walking uncertainly. He's wear- 
ing a black velvet blouse. There is a large white muslin bow 
on his chest. 

His face is smeared with powder. 

His lips are made up and his eyebrows penciled. 

On his face is a smile — a drunken and rather embarrassed 
smile. Someone says: 

"Seryozha, come and sit with us." 

Now I see it is Esenin. 

He sits down heavily at our table. He looks angrily at one 
of the drunks. He mutters: 

"111 push your face in . . . get out . . ." 

I pat Esenins hand. He calms down. He smiles again 
sadly, and with embarrassment. 

Behind the made-up mouth I see pale lips. 

Someone else comes over to our table. 

Someone shouts: "We must put the tables together/' 

They start moving the tables. 

I go outside. 

At Gorky's 

We go into the kitchen. On the stove are large copper sauce- 

We go through the kitchen into the dining room. 

Gorky comes toward us. 


There is something elegant in his noiseless walk and in his 
movements and gestures. 

He doesn't smile as a host ought to, but his face is friendly. 

He sits down at the table in the dining room. We settle 
down on chairs and on a low brightly colored divan. I see 
Fedin, Vsevolod Ivanov in a soldier's greatcoat, Slonimsky, 
and Gruzdev. . . . 

Coughing from time to time, Gorky talks about literature, 
the people, and the tasks of a writer. 

He speaks in an interesting and even absorbing way. But 
I hardly listen to him. I watch him drumming his ringers 
nervously on the table, and almost imperceptibly smiling to 
himself. I watch his amazing face — a clever, rather coarse, 
and far from simple face. 

I look at this great man who has become a legendary 
figure. It's probably bad, disconcerting, and tiring to be one. 
I wouldn't like it. 

As though answering my thought, Gorky says that by no 
means everyone knows him; a few days before he was travel- 
ing by car when some guards stopped him. He told them he 
was Gorky, but one of them said: "We don't care whether 
you're Gorky 1 or sweet. Show your pass." 

Gorky smiles faintly. Then he starts talking again about 
literature, the people, and culture. 

Someone behind is writing down everything he says. 

We get up. We say good-by. 

With his hand barely touching my shoulder, Gorky asks: 

"Why do you look so glum and grim? Why?" 

In reply I mumble something about my heart. 

"That's bad," says Gorky. "You must get better . . . come 
and see me in a few days — we'll talk about your affairs." 

We go through the kitchen again. We go out onto the 

We go out into the Kronversky Prospect — the Gorky 

1 Gorky means "bitter" in Russian. 

112 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

An Encounter 

I go up and down endless stairways. I am holding a file con- 
taining papers and forms. I write down information about 
the tenants on these forms. It's a national census. 

I undertook this work to find out how people live. 

I only believe what I see. Like Harun-al-Rashid I go to 
other people's houses. I go along corridors, through kitch- 
ens, into rooms. I see dull electric lights, tattered wallpaper, 
washing on the line, ghastly crowding, garbage, and rags. 
Yes, of course, it is only recently that the difficult years, 
famine, and devastation passed . . . but I didn't expect to 
see what I've seen. 

I enter a dingy room. A man is lying on a bunk on a dirty 
mattress. He is not friendly. He does not even turn toward 
me. He stares at the ceiling. 

"Where do you work?" I ask. 

"Only asses and horses work," he says. "I don't work my- 
self and don't intend to. So write that down on your lousy 
papers . . . you can add that I go to the club and play 
cards. . . ." 

He's annoyed. Perhaps he's sick. I want to go on to the 
neighbors. As I leave, I look at him. I've seen him somewhere 

"Alyosha!" I say. 

He sits up on the bunk. He has an unshaven, gloomy face. 

I see before me Alyosha N., a school friend. He was one 
grade ahead of me. He was a sissy, a teacher's pet, first in 
the class, and a mommy's darling. . . . 

"What happened, Alyosha?" I mutter. 

"Absolutely nothing happened," he says. And I see an- 
noyance on his face. 

"Maybe I can help you?" 

"I need absolutely nothing," he says. "Incidentally, if you 
have any money, give me five rubles. I'll run down to the 


I offer much more, but he takes only five. 

A few minutes later I'm sitting on his bunk and we're talk- 
ing as we used to ten years before. 

"Really a very commonplace business," he says. "My wife 
went off with some heel. I began drinking. I drank every- 
thing I had. I lost my job. I began playing cards at the club, 
and now, you understand, I don't want to go back to the 
past. I could, but I don't want to. Everything is rubbish, rot, 
comedy, nonsense, smoke. . . ." 

I make him promise to visit me. 

At Night 

There are letters to the Red Gazette on my pillow. They are 
complaints about inefficiency in the public baths. I am sup- 
posed to write a feuilleton about it. 

I scan through the letters. They are inept and comic. But 
at the same time serious. They certainly are! The issue con- 
cerns an important aspect of everyday life — baths. 

I draft an outline and start writing. 

Even the first few lines amuse me. I laugh. I laugh louder 
and louder. I finally roar with laughter to such an extent 
that the pencil and pad drop from my hands. 

I start writing again. And again I'm convulsed with laugh- 

No, later on, when I'm rewriting the story, I shan't laugh 
so loudly. But the first draft always amuses me to an in- 
credible degree. 

I feel sick with laughter. 

A neighbor knocks on the wall. He's an accountant. He 
has to get up early tomorrow. I'm preventing him from sleep- 
ing. Tonight he's pounding with his fist. I must have wak- 
ened him. Annoying. 

I call out: 

"Sorry, Pyotr Alexeyevich . . ." 

I take up the pad again. Again I laugh, this time with my 
face in a pillow. 

114 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

Twenty minutes later the story is complete. A pity I wrote 
it so quickly. 

I go across to the desk and copy out the story in nice, neat 
handwriting. While copying it out, I continue to laugh 
quietly. But tomorrow, when I'm reading the story to the 
editors, I shan't be laughing. I shall read it glumly and even 

Two a.m. I go to bed. But for a long time I can't sleep. I 
think up subjects for new stories. 

Dawn. I take bromide in order to sleep. 

More Rubbish Again 

The editorial office of the literary journal Contemporary. 

I gave five of my best little stories to this magazine, and 
now I've come for the answer. 

Sitting in front of me is one of the editors — the poet 
M. Kuzmin. He is affectedly polite. Much too much so. But 
I see from his face he's about to tell me something unpleas- 

He hesitates. I come to his rescue. 

"My stories probably aren't what you need for the maga- 
zine," I say. 

He says: "Ours is a big magazine, you see . . . and your 
stories . . . no . . . they're very funny and amusing . . . 
but they're written . . . well, it's . . ." 

"Rubbish, do you mean?" I ask him. And the comment 
written on a school essay — "rubbish" — lights up in my mind. 

Kuzmin spreads his hands. 

"For heaven's sake. I don't mean that at all. On the con- 
trary. Your stories show great talent . . . but you must 
agree they're rather exaggerated." 

"They're not exaggerated," I say. 

"Well, just take the language. . . ." 

"The language isn't overdone. It's the syntax of the street 
... of the people. ... I may have exaggerated a little to 
make it more satirical, to make it critical. . . ." 


"Don't let's argue," he says softly. "Give us an ordinary 
novel or story of yours . . . and believe me, we rate your 
work very highly." 

I leave the editorial office. I no longer have the same feel- 
ings I had at school. I'm not even annoyed. 

"To hell with them," I think. "I'll do without big maga- 
zines. They want something 'ordinary.' They want some- 
thing like a classic. That impresses them. That's very easy 
to do. But I don't intend writing for readers who don't exist. 
The people have a different idea of literature." 

I'm not bitter. I know I'm right. 

In a Beerhall 

Daytime. Sunshine. I go along the Nevsky Prospect. Esenin's 
coming toward me. 

He's wearing a smart navy blue coat with a belt. No hat. 

His face is pale. His eyes dull. He walks slowly. He mut- 
ters something. I go up to him. 

He is sullen and not inclined to talk. Despondency is writ- 
ten all over him. 

I try to go, but he won't let me. 

"Do you feel bad? Do you feel ill?" I ask him. 

"Why?" he asks in alarm. "Do I look bad?" 

Suddenly he laughs and says : 

"I'm getting old, dear friend. . . . I'll soon hit thirty. , . ." 

We arrive at the Hotel Europe. 

Esenin stands for a moment at the entrance,then says: 

"Let's go across the street. To the beerhall. For a mo- 

We go into the beerhall. 

The poet V. Voinov is sitting at a table with his friends. 
He comes toward us looking delighted. We sit down at his 
table. Someone pours out mugs of beer. 

Esenin says something to the waiter. He brings him a 
glass of rowanberry liqueur. 

Closing his eyes, Esenin drinks. And I see life returning to 

116 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

him with every swallow. His cheeks become brighter. The 
gestures more certain. The eyes light up. 

He's about to call the waiter again. To distract him I ask 
him to recite some poetry. . . . 

He readily agrees for some reason and is even delighted. 

Standing up, he recites the poem "The Black Man." 

People gather around the table. Somebody says: "It's 

Practically the whole beerhall crowds round us. 

A moment later Esenin is standing on the chair and, ges- 
ticulating, recites a short poem. 

He recites wonderfully and with such feeling and such 
pain that everyone is shaken. 

I have seen many poets on the stage. I have seen them re- 
ceived with tremendous success, and I've heard the de- 
lighted ovations and the delight of entire audiences, but I 
have never known such feeling and warmth as for Esenin. 

Dozens of hands raise him from the chair onto the table. 
Everyone wants to clink glasses with him. Everyone wants 
to touch him, clasp him, and kiss him. 

The crowd is tightly ringed around the table where he's 

I leave the beerhall. 2 

It's My Fault 

Evening. I go along the Nevsky with K. 

I met her in Kislovodsk. 

She is pretty, witty, and amusing. She has the joie de vivre 
which I lack. Perhaps that attracts me most in her. 

We go along, tenderly holding hands. We come out by 
the Neva. We go along the dark embankment. 

K. talks endlessly about different things. But I don't listen 
very carefully to what she's saying. I listen to her words like 

2 Esenin committed suicide in Leningrad in 1925. 


Then suddenly I hear displeasure in the music. I listen 

"This is the second week we've been walking about the 
streets," she says. "We've covered all these silly embank- 
ments and parks. I just want to sit with you in a hotel, and 
talk a bit, and drink tea." 

"No, we might be seen there." 

"Ah, yes. I had forgotten." She has quite a complicated 
life. A jealous husband and a very jealous lover. Many ene- 
mies who would report that they had seen us together. 

We stop on the embankment. We hold each other. We 
kiss. She murmurs: 

"Oh, how stupid. We are in the street!" 

We walk again and kiss again. She covers her eyes with 
her hand. She is dizzy from the endless kisses. 

We reach the gates of a house. K. murmurs: 

"I must go in here and see the dressmaker. Wait for me 
here. I'll just try on a dress and be right back." 

I walk up and down by the house. I walk up and down 
for ten minutes, fifteen. Finally she arrives. Happy. Laugh- 

"Everything's all right," she says. "It's a very pretty dress. 

It's very modest and unpretentious." 

She takes me by the hand and I see her home. I meet her 
five days later. She says: 

"If you like, we can meet today at the house of a friend of 

We arrive at the house. I recognize it. It was where I 
waited twenty minutes for her. It's the house where the 
dressmaker lives. 

We go up to the fourth floor. She opens the door with her 
key. We go into the room. It is a well-furnished room. Not 
like a dressmaker's room. 

From professional habit I leaf through a book I find on a 
small table. On the front page I see a familiar name. It is 
the name of K.'s lover. 

She laughs. 

118 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

"Yes, we're in his room. But don't worry. He's gone away 
to Kronstadt for two days." 

"K.! It's not that I'm worried about. So you were here with 
him then?" 

"When?" she asks. 

"When I waited twenty minutes for you by the door." 

She laughs. She closes my mouth with a kiss. And says: 

"It was your fault." 

September Twenty-third 

The window of my room looks out onto the corner of the 
Moika and the Nevsky Prospect. 

I go over to the window. A very strange sight — the river 
has swollen and turned black. Another half meter and it 
will overflow its banks. 

I run out into the street. 

Wind. An unheard-of-wind blows from the sea. 

I go along the Nevsky Prospect. I am excited and aroused. 
I reach the Fontanka Canal. It is practically level with the 
roadway. Here and there water is splashing on the sidewalk. 

I jump into a streetcar and go over to the Petrograd side 
of Leningrad. That's where my family lives — my wife and 
tiny son. They live with relatives. I moved to the House of 
the Arts so that the infant's crying wouldn't disturb me. 

Now I hurry to them. They live on the first floor in Push- 
karskaya Street. Perhaps they'll have to move up to the sec- 
ond floor. 

The streetcar turns into the Alexander Prospect. We ride 
through water. We stop. We can't go any further. Wooden 
blocks from the roadway are floating about and prevent the 
streetcar from moving. 

The passengers jump out into the water. It's not deep 
here — knee-high. 

I walk through the water and reach the Bolshoi Prospect. 
There is no water yet on the Prospect. 

I almost run all the way to Pushkarskaya Street. The wa- 


ter has not reached it yet. My dear ones are upset and 
alarmed. They are very glad I've come and am now with 

I put on my coat again and go out into the street. I want 
to see whether the water is still rising. 

I come into the Bolshoi Prospect. I buy bread at the bak- 
er's. I go on to Vvedenskaya Street. It's dry. 

Suddenly I see a strange light — there is water pouring 
from every manhole and flooding the roadway at a great 
rate. I wade home through the water. 

The water has already reached the stairway. 

We moved up to the second floor with our belongings. 

I make chalk marks on the stairway to see whether the 
flood is rising. 

At five p.m. the water is splashing at the door. 

It grows dark. I sit at the window and listen to the wind 

Practically the entire city is under water now. The water 
has risen four meters. 

The dark sky is lit by the glare of some kind of conflagra- 

Dawn. From my window I see the water gradually reced- 
ing. I go out into the street. A ghastly sight. A barge piled 
with wood in the street. Beams. Boats. A small sailing ship 
with a mast is lying on its side. Devastation, chaos, and de- 
struction everywhere. 

The Train Was Late 

Alya came in breathlessly and said: 

"Didn't want to let me go . . . you've got to realize, Niko- 
lai, I said, I must see my best friend off — she's leaving for 
Moscow and doesn't know when she'll be back. . . ." 

I asked Alya: 

"When does the train leave with your friend?" 

She laughed and clapped her hands. 

"You see," she said, "and you believed it ... no one's 

120 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

leaving. I just made it up to be able to come and see you/' 

"The train for Moscow leaves at 10:30," I said. "That 
rneans you have to be home about 11: 00." 

It was already midnight when she looked at her watch. 
She gave a shriek and ran over to the telephone without 
even putting on her slippers. 

She sat down in a chair and picked up the receiver, trem- 
bling with cold and emotion. 

I threw her a shawl. She covered her legs with it. 

She was strikingly pretty — almost like a painting by Re- 

"Why are you telephoning?" I asked her. "You had better 
get dressed and leave." 

She waved her hand at me in annoyance. 

"Nicky," she said into the mouthpiece. "Just imagine, the 
train was late and has only just left. I'll be home in ten min- 

I don't know what her husband said, but she replied: 

Tm telling you, the train was late. I'll be home presently." 

Her husband probably said it was midnight. "Really?" she 
said. "Well, I don't know what your watch says, but here, by 
the station clock . . ." 

She threw back her head and looked at my ceiling. 

"The station clock here," she repeated, "says exactly 
eleven." She narrowed her eyes as though looking at a dis- 
tant station clock. "Yes," she said, "exactly eleven, actually 
two minutes past eleven. You must have a funny sort of 
watch. . . . Your watch must be wrong." 

She hung up and began to laugh. Today this little sawdust- 
filled doll would be a most welcome guest. But then I was 
angry with her. I said: 

"Why do you tell lies so brazenly? He will check his watch 
and see you've told a he." 

"But he believed I was at the station," she said, putting on 

Having finished painting her lips, she added: 

"Why tell me off anyway? I don't want to listen. I know 


what I'm doing. He runs around with a revolver threatening 
to kill my friends and me too in the bargain. . . . Inciden- 
tally, he won't care whether you're a writer or not . . . I'm 
sure he'll shoot you just as splendidly." 

I mumbled something in reply. 

Putting on her coat, she said: 

"So you were angry? Perhaps you don't want me to come 
any more?" 

"Just as you please," I answered. 

"No, I won't come to see you any more," she said. "I see 
you don't love me at all." 

She left with an imperious nod of her head. 

She did it beautifully for her nineteen years. 

Heavens, how I could cry now! But at the time I was glad. 
Anyway, she came back in a month. 

At Table 

Moscow. I'm sitting at a table in a theater club. The table is 
set for two. Mayakovsky is going to have supper. He or- 
dered his meal and went off to play billiards. He'll be back 
in a moment. 

I hardly know Mayakovsky. We've met only at the theater 
and at parties. 

Here he comes toward the table. He's breathing heavily. 
His face is grim. He's morose. He wipes his forehead with a 

He won the game, but this hasn't cheered him up. He sits 
down heavily at the table. 

We scarcely exchange a word. I pour him some wine. He 
takes only one sip, then leaves the glass. 

I'm also morose. And I don't want to make artificial con- 
versation. But Mayakovsky is a maitre for me. I am almost a 
novice in literature; I have only been working five years. I 
feel guilty that I'm silent. I begin to mumble something 
about billiards and literature. 

For some reason it's extraordinarily heavy going for me. 

122 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

I speak incoherently and uninterestingly and stop after 
every word. Suddenly Mayakovsky laughs. 

"No, really/' he says, "I find it very pleasant. I thought you 
would make jokes, be witty, and clown, but you . . . no, it's 
just wonderful! Absolutely wonderful . . ." 

"Why should I make jokes?" 

"Well, you're a humorist! You're supposed to. You . . ." 

He gives me a rather pained look. He has surprisingly un- 
happy eyes. There's a dim light in them. 

"Why are you . . . like that?" he asks. 

"I don't know. I'm trying to find out." 

"Yes?" he asks cautiously. "Do you suppose there's a rea- 
son? Are you sick?" 

We begin to talk about illness. Mayakovsky enumerates 
several ailments from which he is suffering — something 
wrong with his lungs, stomach, and kidneys. He can't drink 
and even wants to give up smoking. 

I notice one more ailment in Mayakovsky — he is even 
more concerned about his own health than I am about mine. 
He wipes his fork twice on his napkin. Then he wipes it with 
a piece of bread. Finally, he wipes it with his handkerchief. 
He also wipes the edge of the glass. 

An actor I know comes up to our table. Our conversation 
is interrupted. Mayakovsky says to me: 

"I'll call you in Leningrad." 

I give him my number. 

Public Appearance 

I had agreed to speak in several cities. It was an unfortunate 
day in my life. My first appearance was in Kharkov, then in 

I was taken aback. I was greeted with stormy applause, 
but at the end they hardly clapped at all. So in some way I 
displeased the public, deceived them in some way. How? 

It's true I don't read like an actor; I read monotonously, 
sometimes boringly. But surely they don't come to my eve- 


ning to hear me as a "humorist'? Really! Maybe they think 
that if actors can recite a work humorously, what will the 
author himself be like? 

Each evening is torture for me. 

I mount the stage with difficulty. The knowledge that I 
am about to deceive the audience spoils my mood even 
more. I open the book and mumble a story. 

Someone cries from the back: 

"Give us 'The Bathouse' . . . 'The Aristocrat' . . . why 
are you reading that rubbish?" 

"Heavens!" I think. "Why did I agree to these evenings?" 

I look wretchedly at my watch. Pieces of paper fly onto 
the stage. A chance for a rest. I close the book. 

I unfold the first note. I read it out. 

"If you're the author of these stories, why do you read 

I am annoyed. I shout in reply: 

"And if you're a reader of these stories, why in hell do you 
listen to them?" 

The audience laughs and applauds. 

I open the second note : 

"Rather than read what we all know, tell us in a funny 
way how you came here." 

In a furious voice I shout: 

"I got on the train. My relatives wept and implored me not 
to leave. They warned me I'd be pestered with stupid ques- 

A burst of applause. Laughter. 

Ah, if only I could walk around the stage on my hands or 
ride around on one wheel, the evening would be a success. 

The man who organized my appearances whispers to me 
from the wings : 

"Tell them something about yourself. They like that." 

Submissively I begin to tell them my biography. 

Pieces of paper come flying onto the stage again. 

"Are you married? . . . How many children do you have? 
. . . Do you know Esenin?" 

124 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

It's a quarter to eleven. I can finish. 

Sighing sadly, I leave the stage amid sparse applause. I 
am consoled by the fact that they are not my readers. I am 
consoled by the fact that this is an audience which would 
attend a performance given by any comedian or conjurer 
with just as much zeal. 

I leave for Leningrad without fulfilling my contract. 


I wander around the Leningrad zoo. 

There is a huge and superb tiger in a cage. Alongside him 
is a small white dog— a fox terrier. It was she who suckled 
the tiger. And now, as the tiger's mother, she is in the same 

The tiger looks at her lovingly. 

An amazing sight. 

Suddenly, I hear a horrifying cry behind me. 

Everyone rushes to a cage in which are some brown bears. 

We see a ghastly scene. Next to the brown bears is another 
cage containing bear cubs. The two cages are separated by 
a wooden partition, as well as by iron bars. 

A little cub has climbed up this partition, but his paw has 
got stuck in a crack. And now a brown bear is viciously wor- 
rying the little paw. 

While trying to free himself, the squealing bear cub gets 
his other paw wedged in the crack. Now a second bear 
seizes this paw. 

They both tear at the cub so much that one of the onlook- 
ers faints. 

We try to drive the bears away with sand and stones. But 
they only get more vicious. There's a paw with black claws 
lying on the floor of the cage. I grab hold of a long pole and 
hit the bear with it. 

Keepers and officials come running up at the sound of the 
terrible squealing and roaring of the bears. They pull the 
cub away from the partition. 


The brown bears pace furiously up and down the cage. 
Their eyes are bloodshot. Their muzzles are covered with: 
blood. Growling, the male mounts the female. 

The unfortunate bear cub is taken to the office. Its front 
paws have been torn off. 

It's not squealing any more. It will probably be shot. I be- 
gin to understand what beasts are. And the way they differ 
from humans. 


Sunday. I go down the street. Someone calls out "Misha!" I 
see a woman. She is dressed simply; she is carrying a bag of 

"Misha!" she repeats, and the tears run down her cheeks. 

Before me is Nadya V.'s sister — Katya. 

"Good heavens!" she mutters. "It's you . . . it's you. . . !" 

My heart is thumping terribly. 

"I thought you'd left!" I say. "And where's Nadya? Your 

"Nadya and Marusya are in Paris . . . let's go to my place 
and I'll tell you everything . . . but don't be surprised — r 
live very simply . . . my husband is a very good man . . .. 
he respects and pities me . . . he's an ordinary laborer. . . ." 

We go into a little room. 

A man gets up from the table. He is about forty. After 
greeting me he immediately puts on his coat and goes out. 

"You see how good and tactful he is," says Katya. "He real- 
ized at once I wanted to talk to you." 

We sit down on the couch. Emotion is choking us. Katya 
begins crying. She cries so loudly that someone opens the 
door and asks what happened. 

"Nothing," shouts Katya. 

She is again shaken with sobs. She's probably crying for 
what is past. She probably sees the past in me. Her youth, 
her childhood. I calm her down. 

126 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

Going across to the washbasin, she wipes her tearful face 
and blows her nose loudly. 

Then she begins to talk. In 1917 she went to the south in- 
tending to reach the Caucasus and then escape abroad. But 
in Rostov she caught typhus. It was not possible to wait. 
Only a few days were left. Her sisters drew lots to see who 
would stay with their father. Katya stayed. She was in dire 
straits when her father died. She worked as a cleaning 
woman, then as a housemaid. Later she managed to get to 
Leningrad. But it was no better there — she had no apart- 
ment and no friends. 

"Why didn't you come to me?" I ask. "You must have 
heard about me. . . ." 

"Yes. But I didn't think it was you." 

Katya begins speaking of her sisters. The elder one writes 
to her, but Nadya doesn't. She hates everything she left in 

"And what if I write to her?" I ask. 

Katya says: "You know Kolya M. You remember how 
much he loved her. He wrote to her. She sent him a post- 
card on which there were four words: 'Now we are ene- 
mies.' " 

Katya and I part. I promise to visit her. 

It's Disgusting 

Alya arrived. Her face was pale and there was misery in her 
eyes. Silently she untied the brightly colored scarf around 
her neck. She threw back her head slightly. 

On her neck I saw five blue fingermarks. Someone had 
probably tried to strangle her. 

"Alya, what happened?" I exclaimed. 

She answered dully: 

"Nikolai found out everything. He tried to strangle me, 
but I made such a noise that people came running." 

She began crying. Through her tears she said: 

"Ah, why did I come to see you? Now my peaceful lif e has 


ended. I shall never go back to it. I'll move to my mother's 
and come to see you from time to time." 

I put a hot compress on her neck, and taking a taxi, drove 
with her to her mother's. 

I was extremely upset. I don't remember what my idea 
was, but the same evening I went to see her husband. To my 
surprise, he greeted me calmly. 

I said to him: 

"I didn't expect such a filthy trick from you. You could 
have left her and gone away . . . but to try to strangle thi£ 
little girl . . . it's disgusting. . . ." 

I thought he would shout at me or even throw me out. But 
without moving he sat down and, lowering his head, he said 

"She drove me to distraction. I suspected she wasn't faith* 
ful. Then yesterday I found this note in her bag. Just 
look . . ." 

He threw the note on the table. It was addressed to the 
actor N., with whom I had seen Alya a few times in the 

The note left no doubt; she had been intimate with him t<y 
the highest degree. 

I was amazed, even staggered. I was so staggered that at 
first I didn't realize that her husband knew nothing about 
me and that his only concern was with the actor. 

I looked at him in confusion. He looked at me just as con- 

"And what has this to do with you anyway?" he asked, 
"Why, did you see her today? Was she at your place? Did 
she use to visit you?" 

I suddenly saw in his eyes that he had guessed. 

I covered my eyes with my hand. 

"Good God," he cried. "So she . . . and you . . ." He 
was suddenly struck by the irony of it and burst out laugh- 
ing. Almost calmly he said: "So she deceived you as well 
. . . that's a good one. . . ." 

We parted coldly. Practically without saying good-by. 

128 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

I went home in a daze. My mind was full of chaos. I 
wanted to solve the problem of why she had come to me 
with her bruises. Then I calmed down at the thought that 
before coming to me she had been with her bruises to the 


A man comes into my room. He sits down in an armchair. 

For a moment he sits silently, listening. Then he gets up 
and closes the door tightly. 

He goes over to the wall and, putting his ear to it, listens. 

I begin to realize he is mad. 

Having listened at the wall, he sits down in the chair 
again and covers his face with both hands. I see he is in 

"What's the matter ?" I ask. 

"They're after me," he says. "I was in a streetcar a moment 
ago and I heard their voices clearly: 'There he goes . . . 
catch him . . . seize him . . 

He covers his face again with his hands. Then he says 

"You alone can save me. . . ." 


"We will swap surnames. You will be Gorshkov and I'll be 
the poet Zoshchenko." (That's what he said — "poet.") 

"Good. I agree," I say. 

He jumps toward me and shakes my hand. 

"And who is after you?" I ask. 
I can t say. 

"But I have to know since I'm taking your name." 

Wringing his hands, he says: 

"That's the point; I don't know myself. I can only hear 
their voices and at night I see their hands. They reach out 
toward me from all sides. I know they'll seize me and stran- 
gle me." 

His nervousness is transferred to me. I feel unwell. My 


head spins. There are spots before my eyes. If he doesn't go 
away immediately, I shall probably faint. He has a devastat- 
ing effect on me. 

Gathering my strength, I mumble: 

"Go away. You now have my name. You can relax." He 
leaves with a joyful expression. 

I he down on the bed and feel a terrible misery overpower- 
ing me. 

In the Hotel 

Tuapse. A small hotel room. For some reason I'm lying on 
the floor. My arms are widespread and my fingers are in 

It is rainwater. The storm has just passed. I don't want to 
get up to shut the window. Torrents of rain have come 
through the window. 

I shut my eyes again and lie in a kind of stupor until eve- 

I probably ought to move over to the bed. It would be 
more comfortable there. There's a pillow. But I don't want 
to get up from the floor. 

Without getting up, I reach out for the suitcase and get 
out an apple. I haven't had anything to eat today either. 

I bite off a piece of apple. I chew it like a straw. I spit it 
out. It's nasty. I lie there till morning. 

In the morning someone knocks on the door. The door is 
locked. I don't open it. It's the maid. She wants to clean the 
room. Only once every three days. I say: 

"I don't want anything. Go away." 

During the day I get up with difficulty. I sit on the chair. 
Alarm seizes me. I realize that I cannot go on like this. I will 
die in this wretched room if I don't go away immediately. 

I open my bag, and feverishly gather up my things. Then 
I ring for the maid. 

"I'm sick," I tell her. "I must be taken to the station and 
bought a ticket . . . immediately. . . ." 

130 ] Mikhail Zoshchenko 

The maid brings the manager and a doctor. Patting my 
hand, the doctor says: 

"Nerves . . . it's only nerves ... I will prescribe bro- 
mide for you. . . ." 

"I need to leave immediately," I mumble. 

"You will leave today," says the manager. 


And so my reminiscing was over. 

I had reached 1926. Right up to the day when I stopped 
eating and almost died. 

In front of me I had thirty- three stories. Thirty- three hap- 
penings which at some time or another affected me. 

I began looking through each story. In one of them I had 
hoped to find the reason for my misery, my bitterness, my 

But I did not find anything in these stories. 

Yes, of course, some of them are depressing. But no more 
depressing than most people's experiences. Everyone's 
mother dies. Everybody has to leave home at some time. Or 
part with his beloved. Fight at the front. 

No, I did not find what I was looking for in any of the 

Then I put all the stories together. I wanted to see the 
over-all picture, the over-all chord which perhaps stunned 
me like a fish which is taken from the water and thrown into 
a boat. 

Yes, of course, I've had many shocks in my life. A change 
of fate. The collapse of the old world. The birth of a new life, 
new people, a new country. 

I didn't see any disaster in that! After all, I was also striv- 
ing to see the sunlight. And I was dogged by misery even 
before these events. So they were not the cause of the prob- 
lem. So that's not the reason. On the contrary, they helped 
me to rediscover the world, my country, and the people for 


whom I began working. . . . There should be no misery in 
my heart! But there is. 

I was disheartened. It seems I set myself an impossible 
task in seeking the reason for my misery, seeking the un- 
happy event which turned me into a miserable speck of 
dust blown about by the winds of life. 


Published in Moscow in 1953, this little frolic, unusually bold 
for the time in which it was written, gives a vivid idea of the 
tribulations which Soviet writers may suffer at the hands of 
editors. Translation by Andrew R. MacAndrew. 


Fireman Prokhorchuk or 

The Story of a Story 

( The action takes place in the editorial offices of a mag- 
azine. A woman writer — a beginner— shyly enters the 

editors office. ) 

She: Pardon me. . . . Please excuse me. . . . You're 
the editor, aren't you? 

He: That's right. 

She: My name is Krapivina. I've written a little short 
story for your magazine. 

He : All right, leave it here. 

She: I was wondering whether I couldn't get your 
opinion of it right away. If you'll permit me, I'll read it to 
you. It won't take more than three or four minutes. May I? 

He: All right, read it. 

She: It is entitled "A Noble Deed." (She begins to 
read. ) 

It was the dead of night — three o'clock. Everybody in the 
town was asleep. Not a single electric light was burning. It 
was dark and quiet. But suddenly a gory tongue of flame 


shot out of the fourth-floor window of a large gray house. 
"Help!" someone shouted. "We're on fire!" This was the 
voice of a careless tenant who, when he went to bed, had 
forgotten to switch off the electric hot-plate, the cause of the 
fire. Both the fire and the tenant were darting around the 
room. The siren of a fire engine wailed. Firemen jumped 
down from the engine and dashed into the house. The room 
where the tenant was darting around was a sea of flames. 
Fireman Prokhorchuk, a middle-aged Ukrainian with large 
black mustachios, stopped in front of the door. The fireman 
stood and thought. Suddenly he rushed into the room, pulled 
the smoldering tenant out, and aimed his hose at the flames. 
The fire was put out, thanks to the daring of Prokhorchuk. 
Fire Chief Gorbushin approached him. "Good boy, Pro- 
khorchuk," he said, "you've acted according to the regula- 
tions!" Whereupon the fire chief smiled and added: "You 
haven't noticed it, but your right mustachio is aflame." Pro- 
khorchuk smiled and aimed a jet at his mustachio. It was 

He: The story isn't bad. The title's suitable too: "A 
Noble Deed." But there are some passages in it that must 
be revised. You see, it's a shame when a story is good and 
you come across things that are different from what you'd 
wish. Let's see, how does it start, your story? 

She: It was the dead of night — three o'clock. Every- 
body in the town was asleep. . . . 

He: No good at all. It implies that the police are asleep 
and those on watch are asleep, and . . . No, won't do at all. 
It indicates a lack of vigilance. That passage must be 
changed. Better write it like this: It was the dead of night 
— three o'clock. No one in the town was asleep. 

She: But that's impossible. It's nighttime and people 
do sleep. 

He: Yes, I suppose you're right. Then let's have it this 
way: Everybody in the town was asleep but was at his post. 

She: Asleep at their posts? 

He; No ? that's complete nonsense. Better write: Some 

134 ] Vladimir Polyakov 

people slept while others kept a sharp lookout. What comes 

She: Not a single electric light was burning. 

He: What's this? Sounds as if, in our country, we make 
bulbs that don't work! 

She: But it's night. They were turned off. 

He: It could reflect on our bulbs. Delete it! If they 
aren't lit, what need is there to mention them? 

She (reading on): But suddenly a gory tongue of 
flame shot out of the fourth-floor window of a large gray 
house. "Help!" someone shouted. "We're on fire!" 

He: What's that, panic? 

She: Yes. 

He: And it is your opinion that panic ought to be pub- 
licized in the columns of our periodicals? 

She: No, of course not. But this is fiction ... a crea- 
tive work. I'm describing a fire. 

He: And you portray a man who spreads panic instead 
of a civic-minded citizen? If I were you I'd replace that cry 
of "help" by some more rallying cry. 

She: For instance? 

He: For instance, say . . . "We don't give a damn! 
We shall put it out!" someone shouted. "Nothing to worry 
about, there's no fire." 

She: What do you mean, "there's no fire," when there 
is a fire? 

He: No, "there's no fire" in the sense of "we shall put it 
put, nothing to worry about." 

She: It's impossible. 

He: It's possible. And then, you could do away with 
the cry. 

She (reads on): This was the voice of the careless 
tenant who, when he went to bed, had forgotten to switch 
off the electric hot-plate. 

He: The what tenant? 

She: Careless. 

He: Do you think that carelessness should be popular- 


ized in the columns of our periodicals? I shouldn't think so. 
And then why did you write that he forgot to switch off the 
electric hot-plate? Is that an appropriate example to set for 
the education of the readers? 

She: I didn't intend to use it educationally, but without 
the hot-plate there'd have been no fire. 

He: And would we be much worse off? 

She: No, better, of course. 

He: Well then, that's how you should have written it. 
Away with the hot-plate and then you won't have to men- 
tion the fire. Go on, read, how does it go after that? Come 
straight to the portrayal of the fireman. 

She: Fireman Prokhorchuk, a middle-aged Ukrain- 
ian . . . 

He: That's nicely caught. 

She: . . . with large black mustachios, stopped in front 
of the door. The fireman stood there and thought. 

He: Bad. A fireman mustn't think. He must put the fire 
out without thinking. 

She: But it is a fine point in the story. 

He: In a story it may be a fine point but not in a fire- 
man. Then also, since we have no fire, there's no need to 
drag the fireman into the house. 

She: But then, what about his dialogue with the fire 

He: Let them talk in the fire house. How does the di- 
alogue go? 

She (reads): Fire Chief Gorbushin approached him. 
"Good boy, Prokhorchuk," he said, "you've acted according 
to regulations!" Whereupon the fire chief smiled and added: 
"You haven't noticed it, but your right mustachio is aflame." 
Prokhorchuk smiled and aimed a jet at his mustachio. It 
was dawning. 

He: Why must you have that? 

She: What? 

He: The burning mustachio. 

She: I put it in for the humor of the thing. The man 

136 ] Vladimir Polyakov 

was so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice that his 
mustache was ablaze. 

He: Believe me, you should delete it. Since there's no 
fire, the house isn't burning and there's no need to burn any 

She: And what about the element of laughter? 

He: There'll be laughter all right. When do people 
laugh? When things are good for them. And isn't it good that 
there's no fire? It's very good. And so everybody will laugh. 
Read what you have now. 

She ( reading) : "A Noble Deed." It was the dead of night 
— three o'clock. Some people slept while others kept a sharp 
lookout. From the fourth-floor window of a large gray house 
somebody shouted: "We are not on fire!" "Good boy, Prok- 
horchuk!" said Fire Chief Gorbushin to Fireman Prokhor- 
chuk, a middle-aged Ukrainian with large black mustachios, 
"you're following the regulations." Prokhorchuk smiled and 
aimed a jet of water at his mustachio. It was dawning. 

He: There we have a good piece of writing! Now it can 
be published! 


Let? Kassil was born in Pokrovsk (now Engels) on the Volga 
in 1905. Mainly a writer for children, he is an accomplished 
stylist who has perhaps put his subtle mind at the service of 
children because, like a number of other Soviet writers, he has 
found it easier to express himself in fairy-tale form rather than 
in the cramped, plain language required for adult reading. 

This is an independent story within a children's novel called 
My Dear Boys, published in 1948. Only in this form was it 
possible to put across the astonishing anti-Stalinist satire which 
it patently represents. In 1949, at the height of the campaign 
against "homeless cosmopolitans," Kassil, who is a Jew, was 
severely criticized for having given the name "Commandos" 
(from the British irregular forces) to the secret society of Young 
Pioneers to whom this story is told in the book. Translation by 
John Richardson. 


The Tale of the Three 
Master Craftsmen 

Once upon a time there was a country called Sinegoriya. 
There, amid the blue mountains, for that is what the name 
means, lived hard-working and happy people. Nature was 
kind to them and the climate was very mild so that the inhab- 
itants neither froze in winter nor suffered in summer from 
excessive heat, since they could always find a cool spot 
under the palms and monkeybread trees. And the once 
terrible volcano Quiproquo had long been asleep and now 

138 ] Lev Kassil 

only snored from time to time, which no longer frightened 
anyone. Children tobogganed down from its snow-capped 
top and people roasted chestnuts in the very crater. 

Travelers came from far-off countries to gaze with awe 
upon the blue mountains, to taste the delicious fruit which 
grew there in abundance, and to purchase mirrors of peer- 
less clarity and the famous swords which were strong and 
sharp and yet so slender that you only had to turn them 
edgeways to make them invisible. 

The fruit, mirrors, and swords of Sinegoriya were famed 
throughout the world, and who did not know that at the 
foot of the volcano Quiproquo lived three great Master 
Craftsmen: Amalgam, the glorious Maker of Mirrors and 
Crystal; Isobar, the highly skilled armorer; and wise John 
Greenfingers, the renowned gardener and fruit-grower. 

Isobar's mighty hands could easily bend the thickest iron 
bar, yet they could also weave the thinnest chain mail. He 
forged both swords and plows, while the children of Sine- 
goriya played with intricately designed rattles which the 
kind craftsman made for them. John Greenfingers grew 
grapes which were as large as apples, and apples which were 
as huge and heavy as watermelons. In his garden were 
roses and lilies of unmatched beauty. Their aroma made 
people gay like a very strong wine. But the Master Crafts- 
man whom the people of the blue mountains loved most was 
Amalgam. He could make glass, the facets of which caught 
the seven colors of the rainbow, and his mirrors possessed 
the mysterious power of retaining sunbeams in their depths 
and radiating them in the dark. And when the finest of these 
sunbeams were plucked, they sang like the strings of a lute. 
Everyone loved the Master Craftsman, for the people of 
Sinegoriya were fair of face and there were few who were 
distressed by the mirrors. The children were delighted at 
the seven-colored tinker-bells which danced from the mir- 

Then it happened that for many years no travelers were 
able to reach Sinegoriya. Raging storms barred the way to 


all ships that tried to approach the island. Nevertheless, one 
daring seafarer and his valiant comrades finally managed 
to sail to the shores of Sinegoriya. But when the ship had 
dropped anchor and the weary travelers had gone ashore, 
they hardly recognized the once happy and prosperous coun- 
try where they had so often tasted the fruit and breathed 
the intoxicating scent of the flowers, fenced with lightweight 
invisible swords, and gazed at themselves in crystal-clear 

The streets were deserted. Shutters and wide-open doors 
banged constantly. Unabating, the wind whistled in chim- 
neys, howled in the streets like a dog, and tore at people's 
clothing. The citizens walked about with their heads down 
as though bowing to the wind, and the trees bent down to 
the ground. The wind blew dried leaves along the dust- 
laden road and there was no sound of children's laughter 
or the song of birds, nor was there any scent of flowers. The 
only noise was a squeaking and rattling from all around as 
the weathervanes twirled on the rooftops. 

"What has happened?" asked the voyagers in dismay. 

"Can't you see?" came the reply. "The winds have ruined 
us. Everything has gone with the wind." 

The travelers then learned that the country had been 
seized by the evil and stupid king who lived on a neighbor- 
ing island. He was called Vainglorious the Eleventh-and- 
Three-Quarters, because Vainglorious the Eleventh had long 
since ended his reign and died, and the whole numbers 
were awarded only after a certain number of years service. 
Hence the first Vainglorious had been called Zero, and then 
had come Vainglorious the First-and-a-Half, Vainglorious 
the Second-and-a-Half, and so on. Before the Vainglori- 
ouses the dynasty of Braggarts had been on the throne. 
They had ruled for so long that the people lost count, and 
the last of them had simply been called Braggart and Five- 
Figures-Point-Something. King Vainglorious the Eleventh- 
and-Three-Quarters was an extremely frivolous person. He 
spent so much money dandifying himself that he finally 

140 ] Lev Kassil 

squandered his entire wealth. His people began saying that 
he had thrown prudence to the wind, and he was full of hot 
air, and just a windbag. And they were right. It was because 
of this that the winds of the whole world decided that 
King Vainglorious was just the right person for them — the 
most scatterbrained king in the world. They gathered on the 
island and sought to persuade the king. "Would you like us 
to broadcast your fame to all corners of the earth? Would 
you like us to waft away your sad thoughts, O King?" "Go 
on, then," said the stupid king. 

And the winds became the masters of the country. Power 
was seized by the Secret Council of Winds. All inhabitants 
were ordered to fit weathervanes to their roofs so that all 
and sundry could see which way the wind was blowing. 
Under penalty of death the inhabitants had to keep their 
doors open wide. All the children caught chills. Drafts pene- 
trated into houses through every door, window, and crack, 
caught up every word, and reported back to the king. The 
Chiefs of the Chimney Draft, specially appointed by the king, 
saw to it that people disposed of all their possessions up the 
chimney. Only wind instruments were allowed. The king 
surrounded himself with weathercocks and windbags. The 
Court Windgauge, who was a sly rogue called Once-Upon- 
a-Time, became the Prime Minister, and, in effect, the ruler 
of the land. The king awarded him the Order of the Fan, 
the Chain of the Great Ventilator, and the highest distinc- 
tion of all, the "Wind Rose." 

The three splendid Master Craftsmen were seized by the 
king's weathercocks and taken to the island. John Green- 
fingers was only allowed to grow dandelions. The armorer 
was ordered to make weathervanes — weathervanes and 
nothing else. And the splendid Amalgam was told to break 
all his mirrors and never make any more, for the king was 
extremely ugly and it had often happened that having 
seen himself in the mirror, he had smashed it in fury. The 
winds hated all forms of glass because it prevented them 
from blowing through windows, and the evil and greedy 


Once-Upon-a-Time forbade mirrors so that people could 
not see for themselves how the winds had dried them up. 
And the great Master Craftsman, whose mirrors had been 
an abode of light and beauty, was now forced to become a 
purveyor of soap bubbles. King Vainglorious was very fond 
of blowing bubbles, and Master Craftsman Amalgam knew 
some secret mixtures. He mixed them into soap, and the 
king blew silvery, mirrorlike bubbles of an enormous size. 
They rose high into the air and took a long time to burst. 
But Amalgam knew that the phase would not last, for art 
is eternal only when man can freely put the whole of his 
heart into it. 

Hard times came upon Sinegoriya. The evil winds dried 
up the fields and gardens; where there had once been forest 
land was now a mass of wind-fallen trees, where there had 
once been sweet-scented roses was now overgrown with 
weeds. All that was heard was the howl of the winds in the 
chimneys and the rattle of the iron weathervanes, while the 
king kept blowing soap bubbles, listening to the spinning 
of the weathervanes and the blaring of brass bands, and 
gazing with pleasure at the thistledown floating through the 

In the meantime John Greenfingers' daughter Melchiora 
had grown up a thousand times more beautiful than the 
finest lily that had ever adorned his flowerbeds. And the 
clear-eyed Amalgam, languishing in his dingy dungeon, 
fell in love with her. Melchiora's eyes reminded him of 
the rainbow and her laughter was like the crystal tinkle of 
rays reflected in a mirror. 

The girl also fell in love with the Master Craftsman for 
his eyes, light-colored hair, and sunny nature. John Green- 
fingers tried to hide his daughter from the king, but the 
drafts got to know this and reported to Vainglorious. 

"Whew!" whistled Vainglorious, seeing how beautiful 
Melchiora was. "I didn't know that the old gardener had 
been hiding his finest flower from us . . . why shouldn't 
I make his daughter a member of my court?" 

142 ] Lev Kassil 

The beauty started back in horror from the greedy mon- 

The king realized that Melchiora would never love him,, 
so, on Once-Upon-a-Time's advice, he resorted to cunning. 
He knew there was not one mirror in the palace and that 
Melchiora had never seen her face and had no idea she 
was beautiful. So Vainglorious ordered all those who sur- 
rounded John Greenfmgers' beautiful daughter to tell her 
she was monstrously ugly. From then on, whenever they met 
Melchiora, the courtiers would turn away in disgust and 
horror, and the king took advantage of every occasion to say 
to her: "You see how kind I am! I, the king and mighty 
conqueror of the winds, offer you my love and invite you 
to become a courtier. See, they all turn away from you, you 
are so ugly. But I have a kind heart, I remember your 
father's services to me, and I'm not squeamish. Consent and 
perhaps I may make you my queen." 

But Melchiora stubbornly continued to reject the king. 

"Am I really so ugly?" she used to ask Amalgam in dismay. 
"How is it you love me?" "Believe me, you are the most beau- 
tiful girl in the world," Amalgam would answer. "And I am 
ready to say it anywhere, even if the winds tear me to pieces 
for those words. Alas, if I had but one mirror, I could let you 
look at yourself and you would never be able to take the 
mirror away." 

But Melchiora was never able to see her face. Whenever 
she went into the streets, the king ordered her face to be 
covered so that the people should not be frightened at her 

"Look into my eyes," Amalgam said to her. "Can you not 
see how beautiful you are?" "No," answered Melchiora, 
"in your eyes I can only see the love which overpowers 
everything and dazzles me, and probably you too, and I see 
nothing else." 

"Then go to the lake and look at yourself — the water will 
tell you the truth!" exclaimed Amalgam. 

So the beautiful Melchiora ran to the lake. She leaned over 


its mirrorlike surface and began to gaze at her reflection. 
But one of the winds hastened after her and began blowing 
on the water. The mirror rippled and Melchiora's beautiful 
features were hideously distorted. She shrank back in horror, 
covering her eyes with her hands. "The king is right," she 
said. "I am really extremely ugly. Amalgam must surely 
have loved me out of pity." 

Yet, she still wanted to find out once and for all whether 
or not she was ugly. "If I am so ugly, Your Majesty," she 
said to the king, "why do you not help me to be certain? 
Allow Master Craftsman Amalgam to make one mirror, 
no matter how small." 

The king did not know what to say. He was not very clever 
or quick-witted, that conqueror of the winds. But the cun- 
ning Once-Upon-a-Time helped him out once more. "Let 
him make an untrue mirror," he advised. "Let her admire 
herself in a curved mirror." 

The king sent for Amalgam and said: "They say you are 
very bored without your mirrors, Master Craftsman. I will 
allow you to make one mirror, but it must be curved so that 
whoever looks in it will see himself ridiculous and unattrac- 
tive. And the better looking the person, the more hideous 
he will be in the mirror. Let the nose be twisted across 
the face, let the eyes pop out onto the cheeks, let the mouth 
stretch from ear to ear and the ears hang like a dog's!" 
"No! Never," answered Amalgam. "My mirrors shall never 
distort the true face of beauty." 

The king was enraged: "Do you dare disobey my com- 
mands? Do you want to be thrown down the ventilator? 
Seize him!" "Wait ... let me think first," said Amalgam. 

He was silent for a moment, and then, as though making 
up his mind, he said, looking into the king's face with his 
clear eyes: "All right, let it be as you say; I will make a 
mirror of that kind." "But don't try any tricks," the king 
warned him. "I shall look into the mirror myself to test it." 

Amalgam went off to his workshop, fanned the fire until 
it blazed, and set the crucible to heat. He spent three days 

144 ] Lev Kassil 

and three nights making the mirror and another three days 
and three nights polishing it. And the mirror he made was 
finer than anything he had ever made before. Then he told 
the king the work was completed. 

The king looked at the mirror from the side and said: 
"The surface doen't look curved to me." "That is the whole 
secret, Your Majesty," answered Amalgam. "It looks like an 
ordinary mirror, but won't you take a look in it?" 

The king looked at himself in the mirror. He was hideously 
ugly, but had not seen himself for so many years that he 
roared with delight. 

"Well done, Master Craftsman; I shall award you the 
Order of the Fan. Your mirror really does distort the human 
face! Look! My nose goes across my face, my eyes are pop- 
ping out, my mouth reaches from ear to ear, and my ears 
hang like a dog's. Thank heaven it is a curved mirror." 

And no longer worried, Vainglorious sent for Melchiora. 

"I have carried out your request, Melchiora," said the king. 
"Here is the truest mirror; it was made by your friend 
Amalgam. Look into it and admit that I told you the truth." 
The king snickered as he spoke those words. 

Hardly had Melchiora looked into the mirror when she 
stepped back and covered her face with her hand in incre- 

"Now I hope you know what you're like," said the con- 
tented king. "Yes, now I know what I'm like," said Melchiora 
quietly and again looked in the mirror, unable to tear 
herself away. "There you are," said the king. "Now you 
won't be so stubborn." 

In a happy mood, the king sent for his courtiers and told 
them all to look in the mirror. The Ministers and Lords, 
the weathercocks and Chiefs of the Chimney Draft gazed at 
themselves in the mirror and then spat with disgust: "We 
certainly have ugly mugs in this mirror!" 

They had not the slightest idea that Amalgam had made a 
perfectly plain and true mirror. It was only the sly Once- 
Upon-a-Time who suspected something was wrong. He 


seized the mirror, suddenly held it up before Amalgam's face 
and saw that the Craftsman was reflected in it just as 
clear-eyed as he was in actual fact. 

"Look, Your Majesty," howled Once-Upon-a-Time, "the 
rascal has cheated us! He made a magic mirror which dis- 
torts our own faces and the beautiful countenance of the 
king but reflects his own face and that of this stubborn girl 
in undistorted fashion." 

"All right, this time it's the ventilator for you!" shouted 
the furious king. 

He smashed the mirror against the stone floor with such 
spite that the glass broke into a thousand pieces. 

The king's weathercocks seized Amalgam and threw him 
into a dark dungeon without a single ray of light. 

The next day the rebel was tried by the Council of Winds. 

The Council of the Winds met in an enormous courtroom 
in which the ceiling was marked with the four points of the 
compass and instead of a chandelier there quivered a gigan- 
tic compass needle. 

The first to enter were numerous Trade Winds and Mon- 
soons who took up their stand on the left and right of the 

The Chief Windmaster of the Royal Court announced the 
arrival of the winds. In swept the Cyclone, gusty, twisted, 
tightly wrapped in his cloak. His eyes flashed lightning. 
He was whipping along in front of him a gigantic humming 
top made of water and sand . . . From the opposite door 
came tottering his adversary — the flabby and listless Anti- 
cyclone. He was bent low under the weight of a cylinder of 
compressed air. His loose, colorless clothing flapped as he 

"Mister Northeaster, the northeast wind!" announced the 

The Northeaster blew in, red-nosed with a long white 
flowing beard and wrapped in furs. It became very cold in 
the courtroom. The wind breathed with a whistle and his 
breath settled on the floor as a hoarfrost. He was leading 

146 ] Lev Kassil 

his son, Pine Forest, with his long bony hand which had 
icicles instead of fingers. 

"Mister Southwester, the southwest wind!" called out the 

"Atchoo!" Snuffling and sneezing, the Southwester came 
in. He was wearing a plastic raincoat and carrying an open 
umbrella, dragging his rubber-shod, rheumatic feet, and 
leaving wet marks on the parquet flooring. Coughing and 
sneezing could be heard throughout the courtroom. 

Then there was a piercing whistle and in came another 
wind, this time wearing a flapping scarf the color of meer- 
schaum and a wreath of withered vine leaves. 

"Signor Sirocco, the terror of the vineyards!" proclaimed 
the Windmaster. 

With a pirate's ring in one ear and his swarthy cheeks 
puffed out, wheezing through his few teeth and slashing 
the air with a Samurai sword, came the slant-eyed Typhoon. 

"Khan Sandstorm!" 

And everyone felt a blast of hot air. The wind entered 
panting heavily, and licking his cracked lips with a dry, 
pallid tongue. His piercing eyes were inflamed and on his 
shaven head was a wreath of feather-grass and wormwood. 
He was followed by the Tornado, the wind from the West 
Indies and prairies, in a cowboy hat, clinking the spurs 
on his moccasins and twirling a swishing lasso above his 
head. Then came the half-naked Fang, a handsome brown- 
haired man with fiery eyes and a thin, dry mouth — the 
destroyer of the Colchis mandarins. The curly golden 
fleece was slung across his bronzed shoulders. 

"Khamsin, Master of the desert!" 

Into the courtroom staggered a scarecrow, as high as the 
ceiling, roaring like a bull in fury, rolling his crazy eyes and 
gnashing his sandy teeth; he was shaggy, red-haired, and 
dressed in tatters. 

Finally, taking a deep breath as though about to chill the 
whole world, the Windmaster announced: "His Royal Maj- 
esty, King Vainglorious, Great Commander of the Winds!" 


The organ bellows began to pump; puffing out their 
cheeks, the musicians played a fanfare. Everything 
squeaked and howled. The drafts flitted from corner to cor- 
ner and a small eddy raced across the courtroom shouting: 
"Make way for the king!" 

Vainglorious entered, accompanied by the Chief Wind- 
gauge, Once-Upon-a-Time, and a retinue of henchmen; he 
was wearing a crown with a huge weathervane on top. 

"Gentlemen of the Wind," began the king, "be seated!" 

The winds reclined on wide divans. The Royal Court was 
in session. 

Weathercocks led Master Craftsman Amalgam into the 
courtroom. As soon as they saw him, the winds began howl- 
ing and roaring. A storm rose in the room. The Windmaster 
had great difficulty in coping with this hurricane and restor- 
ing calm in the court. 

Fearless and clear-eyed, the Maker of Mirrors looked at 
the king and those around him. 

Once-Upon-a-Time roared out the charge. 

"Do you plead guilty?" asked the king. 

"I am only guilty," began the Master Craftsman proudly, 
"in that I have never distorted the beautiful, hid the ugly, 
flattered the unsightly, nor avoided telling people the 

"Burn out his eyes!" howled the Khamsin. 

"Fill his mouth with sand!" roared the Simoom. 

"Lash him with rain!" proposed the Southwester. 

"Twist him into a whirlwind!" shrieked the Cyclone. 

"Freeze him!" said the Northeaster through gritted teeth. 

"Strangle him and stamp on him!" bellowed the Tornado. 

"Let him commit hari-kari!" cried the Typhoon. 

"Into the ventilator with him!" shouted the king. 

"Into the ventilator with him!" repeated the winds. 

That was the worst kind of execution. 

Amalgam was shut up in a high tower in one of the walls 
of the castle. The execution was fixed for the next morning. 

The beautiful Melchiora ran to Isobar the armorer and 

148 ] Lev Kassil 

threw herself on her knees before him, imploring him to 
save Amalgam. But how could they find out which tower he 
was in, and how could they save him when all the towers 
were as straight and smooth as candles! 

When Amalgam came to his senses after the tortures to 
which the weathercocks subjected him, he felt himself and 
found a piece of glass in his pocket. It was a fragment of the 
mirror which Vainglorious had smashed in his fury. Amal- 
gam had managed to hide it. 

He climbed up onto the ledge of the narrow window in 
the tower and caught a ray of sunlight in the glass. A spot of 
rainbow-colored light danced over the roofs, towers, and 
walls of the palace. Then suddenly the spot of light, the en- 
voy of the Master Craftsman, danced into the hovel where 
Melchiora wept, wringing her tender hands, and Isobar 
clenched his mighty fists in helplessness. Melchiora im- 
mediately guessed that this was a messenger from Amal- 

She ran to the window and saw a rainbow-colored ray 
coming from a window in one of the towers. 

Immediately her father, the wise John Greenfingers, 
clapped his hand to his forehead and said: "Oh, what a 
greenfingers I am! I have some bindweed seed. I have 
grown it for fifty-five years in succession! I tended it day and 
night until it could look after itself. This weed grows so fast 
that if you stretch a thread from the top to the foot of Qui- 
proquo and plant the seeds below, shoots will instantly 
weave around the thread and before you can say one-two- 
three, bindweed will be blossoming at the very top of the 
mountain. But listen. I once tried sowing it during a shower. 
You can imagine what happened. Like lightning it wound 
around a stream of rain and before the rain could reach 
the ground, it had already climbed up to the sky. I put these 
seeds aside for a rainy day, daughter, to be able to weave a 
wreath around the house which you would live in with your 
lover, but it seems the time has now come to use it. Don't 
cry, we will save Amalgam. I will sow the bindweed below 


the window of the tower in which he is imprisoned." "But 
the tower is high and the window is at the very top. How 
can we stretch the thread so high or make rain?" wondered 
Isobar. "My bindweed is so strong and fast-growing that it 
only needs a straight sunbeam and it will climb up it. But 
we cannot do this in the daytime," he said, "the guards will 
see, and at night there's no sun." 

"Yes, but the moon is full just now." "The king has posted 
his most loyal weathercocks at the tower," warned Melchi- 
ora. "They are on guard all night." "I will undertake the 
task," Isobar reassured her. "I will wreck all the weather- 
vanes on the palace. The winds will quarrel and confusion 
will follow!" 

And that is what happened. Toward nightfall the winds 
saw that the arrows on the palace weathervanes were point- 
ing in different directions and they immediately became ex- 

"It's my turn to blow," howled the Northeaster, "but the 
weathervane shows southwest! Call the guard and have the 
vanes mended!" 

Disorder reigned in the palace. The weathercocks 
rushed off to look for Isobar, but there was no trace of him. 

In the meantime the moon had risen. Catching her pearly 
light in his piece of mirror, Amalgam sent down a slender, 
quivering, transparent ray. Wherever it touched the earth, 
John Greenfingers sowed a handful of his magic seeds. In an 
instant powerful shoots twined themselves around the rays 
and climbed to the top of the tower. 

There were many of these green shoots. They bound 
themselves into a thick, strong rope, and Amalgam was easily 
able to climb down to the ground. And when one of the 
sentries threw himself at Amalgam, having heard the noise, 
the Craftsman blinded him with a ray from his mirror. And 
so the Master Craftsmen Amalgam and John Greenfingers 
escaped from the palace. It was agreed that Melchiora 
would wait for them on the shore where Isobar had already 
fitted out a small ship with a loyal crew. But when the fugi- 

150 ] Lev Kassil 

tives reached the shore, John Greenfingers was unable to 
find his daughter and Amalgam could not find his beloved. 
They did not know that the sly Once-Upon-a-Time had 
locked up the beauty in a dungeon during the night. 

Amalgam wanted to go back at once to the palace to free 
Melchiora, but John Greenfingers and Isobar the Armorer 
would not let him go, thinking that to do so would be unwise 
and that Amalgam would only destroy both himself and 
Melchiora, for she could only be saved if the three Master 
Craftsmen set about it while at large. 

They found shelter with kind and brave people called 
Commandos. These were reliable fellows, hard-working 
and fearless, skilled craftsmen and brave soldiers. "Valiance, 
loyalty, labor, and victory!" was their slogan. There was no 
work they could not do. There was no danger which could 
daunt them. They had long intended to rid the country of 
Vainglorious and the evil winds. "He who sows the wind 
shall reap the storm," the Commandos used to say. They 
greeted the three glorious Master Craftsmen joyfully and 
respectfully, and invited them to join the family of Com- 

"Valiance!" said Isobar. "Loyalty!" added Amalgam. "La- 
bor!" said John Greenfingers. "Victory!" cried all three, re- 
peating the Commandos' oath. 

Then Isobar the Armorer said: "I know what I must do. So 
far I have made weathervanes which show the direction of 
the wind. But now it is up to us to turn the wind in the direc- 
tion we want. John Greenfingers put all his heart into his 
bindweed seeds, and the plant acquired the magic power of 
growth. I will work with the weathervanes and we will sub- 
due the winds." 

And without delay he seized a hammer in his powerful 
hands and set to work. 

"You're right!" responded Amalgam. "And I will set to 
work too. What have my mirrors done so far? They have 
obediently reflected beauty and shown people their de- 
fects. But beauty and ugliness exist apart from my mirrors. I 


will put my mind to it and work day and night until I make 
mirrors which will themselves make the world more beauti- 
ful. I want people to reflect everything with which I imbue 
the mirror by my toil and love, for it is said that there is no 
force in this world superior to creative work, provided 
man has chosen it of his own will." 

And the Master Craftsmen set to work. They toiled day 
and night without fatigue, without taking sleep or rest. A 
great fury inspired the armorer and fanned the fire under 
his furnace. A great love gave the Maker of Mirrors strength 
and shone in his crystal. 

Time passed, for toil and perfection need time. . . . 

. . . Time passed while the beautiful Melchiora lan- 
guished in captivity. The cruel Once-Upon-a-Time had 
thrown her into a filthy dungeon. Cold slimy toads kept 
jumping on her, smooth-tailed rats nipped her beautiful 
face, and wood lice crawled all over her arms. Very soon 
there was not a trace of her former beauty left. Once-Upon- 
a-Time brought her a piece of mirror which had acciden- 
tally been overlooked in the palace. How bitterly the poor 
Melchiora wept when the dull glass reflected a yellow, ugly, 
wrinkled face covered with weals, scars, welts, bruises, and 

"What have you done to me?" cried the poor girl. 

At this point Once-Upon-a-Time thought of another crafty 

"Don't fret," he said, "you're as beautiful as ever. It's just 
a crooked mirror. We have captured your Master Craftsman 
and he has renounced both you and his stupid truth. As 
you see, he has made a crooked mirror for you. Now you 
must give in." 

But at that moment Melchiora caught sight of Once-Upon- 
a-Time's face in the mirror before he had time to move 
aside. The face in the mirror was as spiteful and hideous, 
and just as horrible, as it was in reality. Melchiora realized 
that the evil Windgauge was trying to fool her again, though 
she also saw that the mirror was telling her the bitter truth. 

152 ] Lev Kassil 

Yet she was glad at this, for to lose faith in love seemed 
much more terrible to her than to lose her own beauty. 

By that time the Master Craftsmen had finished their 
work and the Commandos were making ready for their cam- 
paign against Vainglorious. But the drafts sent by the king 
had already penetrated through cracks into the Commandos' 
camp. It was soon known at the palace where Amalgam, Iso- 
bar, and John Greenfingers were hidden, and Vainglorious 
sent military windcraft to the blue mountains where the 
Commandos were in hiding. 

It was a rainy day and the showers kept falling and 
falling. The Winds blew heavy thunderclouds toward the 
mountains with windcraft hidden inside them. But John 
Greenfingers dropped a handful of seeds at the foot of the 
mountain and the bindweed instantly climbed up the 
streams of rain to the clouds, some of the shoots even 
managing to encircle the lightning which streaked from the 
clouds. A thick wall of greenery stretched to the very sky all 
around the Commandos' quarters, entangling Vainglorious's 
windcraft like flies in a spider's web and making them crash 
to the ground. 

Then the Commandos made preparations to storm the 
palace. On the eve of their attack they replaced all the 
weathervanes in the country with new ones. The hard- 
working Isobar had made thousands of vanes imbued with a 
magic power. Before setting out to do battle, Master Crafts- 
man Amalgam made each Commando look in his new mir- 
ror and as soon as he saw himself, each one became braver, 
abler, and more loyal to the cause. 

At last the day of reckoning arrived. The arrows on all the 
weathervanes turned their tips in the direction of the pal- 
ace. The Commandos sallied forth. Isobar armed them with 
newly made magic arrows. The Commando warriors car- 
ried spears with crystal points, and behind each spear 
there arched a tiny rainbow. In addition to this, every 
Commando was armed with a small mirror attached to a 
bracelet and a basket with bindweed seeds. At dawn the 


Commando ships stealthily approached the shores of the 

With their rainbow-colored flag flying, the Commandos 
launched their attack. Storm-guns rattled from the walls of 
the castle. The Winds were just about to throw themselves 
upon the Commandos when they saw that not a single 
weathervane had moved. Then a miracle occurred. The 
splendid Isobar had put so much fury into his work that the 
Winds were unable to do a thing with the weathervanes. 
The weathervanes were out of control. No matter how the 
winds blew, no matter how they puffed out their cheeks, all 
the vanes pointed in one direction — toward the palace. 
Since the thousands of arrows fired by the Commandos 
were made of the same magic metal as the vanes, they 
went right through the approaching hurricane and, carrying 
the air with them, made a powerful new hurricane of their 
own. The old winds were forced to surrender. The hurricane 
shook the palace, sweeping the guards from the walls. Then 
beams of vellow light from thousands of little pocket mir- 
rors surrounded the castle and in an instant bindweed and 
ivy wove round and round these rays all the way up to the 
battlements. Commandos scrambled up the green strings as 
though they were rope ladders. They stormed into the castle 
and killed all the weathercocks. Soon, above the biggest 
tower, there fluttered the Commandos' rainbow-colored flag, 
the flag of the Great Rainbow, the herald of good weather 
and bright happiness. 

Once-Upon-a-Time tried to escape from the palace in a 
windcraft, but the infuriated winds seized him, and since 
each one was blowing in his own direction, the Chief 
Windgauge was blown to pieces. The frightened king was 
found hiding under the stairs. 

"All right," said the Armorer. "Now you are Vainglorious- 
Exactly-the-Twelfth, and there will be no more to come 
after you." 

In the meantime Master Craftsman Amalgam was speed- 
ing through the passages and corridors of the castle in search 

154 ] Lev Kassil 

of Melchiora. He went through all the towers and case- 
mates, and finally, in one of the dungeons, he found a wrin- 
Med, starved, hideous-looking creature. When she saw him, 
the unfortunate girl gave a cry and hid her face in her 
hands. But her cracked voice was deliciously familiar to 

"Who are you?" he asked, afraid he might be wrong. 

"Don't you recognize me? I was once your beloved. Now 
I can die in peace, for I know that you remained loyal to 
your truth. I cannot live any more as hideous as I am." 

"Wait," exclaimed Amalgam, "if you believe in my love, 
look into this mirror." "No, I don't want to. I haven't the 
strength to see my ugliness again, not even once." 

And she dropped lif eless to the ground. 

Amalgam threw himself down on his knees, held a mirror 
to her lips, and saw it misted for a second. She was alive. 
He warmed her deathly pale face with kisses and forced her 
to look in the mirror. 

Overcoming her repulsion, Melchiora looked at herself in 
the glass. Suddenly something wonderfully soft passed 
across the mirror. And as she watched, Melchiora felt her 
features obeying the spell of the mirror, her face becoming 
clearer, the wrinkles smoothing out, her sores healing, and, 
in effect, she felt herself growing more beautiful every 

"Keep looking, keep looking," said Amalgam. 

She gazed intently into the glass and suddenly she was 
again as beautiful as ever — even more enchanting than be- 

And when she and Amalgam went out onto the balcony 
together, the Commandos met them with whoops of joy. 
They shook their spears and the crystal tips sent up myriads 
of colored lights which merged into one triumphant rainbow 
and arched across the sky. Then John Greenfmgers sowed 
seed round about and roses and lilies blossomed on the spot. 

That is how the three Master Craftsmen helped the free 
Commandos to rid themselves of the Winds. The Winds 


were all incarcerated beneath the castle and only allowed 
out when needed for work, that is to say to clear the sky of 
clouds, turn the windmills, or fill the sails of ships. The gar- 
dens bloomed again in Sinegoriya, the mirrors glittered 
once more, and dampers were put back on the stoves, while 
on the walls of the castle appeared a new coat of arms — a 
rainbow with an arrow entwined in bindweed. 


{his poem is a dramatic statement in verse of the feeling most 
Russians had at the beginning of World War II that, in Pas- 
ternak's words, "when the war broke out, its real horrors . . . 
were a blessing compared with the inhuman power of the lie, 
a relief because it broke the spell of the dead letter." It appeared 
in the almanac Literary Moscow, #2, November 1956, whose 
publication represented an attempt on the part of Moscow 
writers to achieve some independence from bureaucratic control. 
It contained many outspoken poems and stories which were 
later, during the panic caused by the Hungarian revolution, 
fiercely attacked. Translation by Walter N. Vickery. 


r \ 



Those Moscow days . . . The avalanche of war . . 
Uncounted losses! Setbacks and defeats! 
Yet, comrades of that year, tell the whole truth: 
Bright as a torch it flamed, that shining year! 
Like crumbling plaster, subterfuge flaked off, 
And causes were laid bare, effects revealed; 
And through the blackout and the camouflage 
We saw our comrades' faces — undisguised. 
The dubious yardsticks that we measured by — 
Forms, questionnaires, long service, rank, and age- 
Were cast aside and now we measured true: 
Our yardsticks in that year were valor, faith. 

And we who lived and saw these things still hold 

1941 [157 

Fresh in the memory, and sacred still, 

The watches, rooftops, and barrage balloons, 

The explosive chaos that was Moscow then, 

The buildings in their camouflage attire, 

The symphony of air raids and all-clears — - 

For then at last seemed real 

Our pride as citizens, pure-shining pride. 


1 he author of this story is the son of the Russian writer, Kornei 
Chukovsky. It appeared in the almanac Literary Moscow, #2, 
1956, at the height of the "thaw." Of the several controversial 
works in this almanac, this story is particularly interesting for its 
scrupulous objectivity in describing a character and situations 
which are scarcely in accord with the canons of socialist realism. 
Here, there is none of that tedious moralizing which has brought 
the doctrine into such disrepute, both in Russia and in the West. 
Translation by Walter N. Vickery. 


The Tramp 

In 1916 Misha was twenty years old. He was curly-headed, 
broad-shouldered, strong in the legs; his appearance was 
spoiled only by his teeth, which were stained and rotten. He 
lived with his mother and father in a southern town. His 
father owned six fishmonger stores situated in various parts 
of the town. 

Every evening Misha would go down to the main street 
and meet his friends there. The noisy gang would start off 
strolling along the main street. If they spotted a passer-by 
who looked to be of no great account, they would begin 
a heated argument among themselves. When the passer-by 
was quite close, Misha would suddenly turn toward him and 
say: "Listen to this!" When the passer-by stopped, Misha 
would turn his back on him and go on with the argument. 
The passer-by, thinking he had been forgotten, would start 

THE TRAMP [ 159 

to move on. But Misha would stop him again: "Wait!" The 
passer-by would stand there waiting, while Misha argued 
about how many watermelons you could get into the An- 
dromeda s hold or how many paces it would take to walk 
from one street in the town to another. Then, as if he had 
suddenly remembered about the other's existence, Misha 
would say: "Go away. You're not needed here." And the 
passer-by would go on his way, hearing behind his back 
the gang's loud laughter rising through the branches into the 
warm, darkening sky. 

Another Misha stunt was to start a fight with one of his 
friends. If some misguided peacemaker started to separate 
them and stop the fight, Misha and his friend would stop 
fighting each other and together would slap the peace- 
maker's face. 

He was quite a joker, was Misha. 

He was costing his father a great deal of money. The war 
was on with Germany and Austria-Hungary. His father was 
paying money to keep him out of military service. But in 
spite of all the money invested in this way, Misha's position 
was daily becoming less and less secure. He was too conspicu- 
ous in the small town. The governor himself, people said, 
was displeased by the fact that Misha was not yet at the 
front. And Misha's father felt that he would have to fix things 
for his son in some other way. 

It took a bit of fixing, but he at length succeeded in having 
Misha accepted as a clerk in Supplies Administration at a 
prisoner-of-war camp. 

The camp was in Central Asia. Misha, wearing a military 
greatcoat and fur cap, left for the camp in the fall. 

The prisoners of war were building a railroad. In the snow- 
less winter the frozen steppe echoed underfoot. The prison- 
ers were divided into groups of six. Their job was to carry the 
rails. Each group had a sentry to watch it. The six men 
would pick up the rail and carry it up onto the embankment. 
The sentry marched alongside, rifle in hand. The black- 
mustached Croats and Bosnians would then walk back in 

160 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

single file, in the same order. Mittens had still not been is- 
sued; the skin on the men's hands tore off — their fingers froze 
to the iron of the rails. The small chains of men in the frozen 
steppe looked from a distance like notes on a gray sheet of 
music. They worked till dark and then lay down on the hard 
earth, stretching out their feet to the smoky dung fires. 

Soon Misha had made himself at home in his new sur- 
roundings. He did not remain a clerk for long. He was put 
onto delivery work and would be sent to Ashkhabad for sup- 
plies. In Administration he made a name for himself as a 
wag and a good storyteller. He would tell the story of the 
passenger who kept on asking what the next station was 

"Papaluki," he was told. 

"And the one after?" 


"And the one after that?" 

"All the little Lukis!" 

Misha was much in demand socially. He was always being 
invited out. His superiors had complete confidence in him. 
They started to entrust him with more difficult missions: he 
would take food supplies to Ashkhabad and there sell them to 
the dealers. The food supplies were supposed to be for the 
prisoners. Misha was a bit shaken by this operation at first, 
but he got used to it. He had to share the profits with an enor- 
mous number of people, but in spite of this Misha was getting 
more money than his father was getting from all six fish- 
monger stores. And every month Misha was becoming nois- 
ier and more cheerful. 

In the spring of 1917, when the steppe turned green and 
hot, when meetings started to be held and the news of the 
overthrow of the Czar reached Central Asia, Misha started 
to buy up pounds sterling. In the camp they received Ke- 
rensky's speeches. They also received a report that an inspec- 
tion team was coming from Tashkent. They decided to offer 
up a sacrifice : all their sins would be laid at the door of one 
victim so that the rest could go free. Their choice was Misha. 

THE TRAMP [ 161 

He was young, inexperienced, and a stranger to all of them. 

People became even friendlier toward Misha. Eventually 
he was allowed to steal as much as he wished. And he carted 
off whole wagon trains of food supplies to Ashkhabad. Mean- 
while the camp accountants transferred to his name all the 
previous thefts and forgeries. 

But Misha was no fool. And when the steppe turned 
from green to a scorched yellow, he stuffed all his pounds 
sterling into his boots and, providing himself with travel or- 
ders, set off in a small cart for a village close to the border. 

From there it was twelve versts across the steppe to 
Persia. At sunset Misha left his horse in the village and 
started south on foot. The steppe here is rolling and he 
tried to keep in the depressions between the rises. The sky 
flamed crimson and the hot dry evening lay suspended 
above the earth like a purple mist. 

It was almost completely dark and the sunset had shrunk 
to a thin strip when Misha suddenly noticed someone sitting 
on a nearby slope. 

The man got up. He was standing on the slope immedi- 
ately above Misha, and to Misha he seemed enormous. He 
asked something in a low voice in an unintelligible language. 
Two or three words sounded like Russian, and Misha sud- 
denly guessed that the man was a Croat who had escaped 
from the camp. Of late everything in the camp had gone to 
pieces and escapes were not infrequent. 

Misha did not answer and the Croat bent right down 
close to his face, peering at him. Misha stood motionless. 
He could feel the Croat's breath on his cheeks. Suddenly 
the Croat uttered a cry and Misha realized that he had 
been recognized. 

The Croat started to speak rapidly, and the fact that in 
his unintelligible speech there were words that were intel- 
ligible made it all the more terrifying. Then he struck Misha 
in the face with his fist. 

Misha spat out all his stained teeth, lost consciousness, 
and fell down in the hard grass. 

162 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

When he came to his senses, the sunset was completely 
over. Large stars hung low over the steppe. Weak and afraid 
of moving, Misha lay on his back and looked at the stars. 

The hours passed, the constellations moved across slowly 
over Misha's head. Around everything was quiet. And sud- 
denly in the distance, in the silence, three rifle shots rang 
out, one after the other. 

Misha listened eagerly, but again there was silence, mo- 
tionless, immovable. 

When the night turned to gray, Misha got up and started 
slowly forward. A thin streak of dawn appeared in the east, 
the tops of the rises grew pink. Bending low, Misha was 
making his way across a flat, open stretch, when he stum- 
bled over something in the grass. Looking down, Misha saw 
that his toe cap had caught on someone's leg. He recognized 
the man; it was the Croat. 

The Croat had been killed during the night by frontier 

In his tattered clothes the dead Croat looked like a rag 
doll. His motionless, protruding eyes looked upward, their 
lower lids drawn back. 

Misha stood and looked at the Croat. Then he kicked 
him in the face with his heel. 

And started forward at a run, without looking back. He 
ran till he came to the bank of a small river. This small river 
was, as he knew, the frontier. 

It was quite light now. There was no one around. He took 
off his boots and started to wade, carrying the boots over his 
shoulder so as not to wet his pounds sterling. The water 
was warm and yellow. Sharp, brittle reeds broke off with a 
dry, ringing sound. 

Once on the Persian side, he crawled into some bushes 
near the water and lay down. He washed his swollen face 
and drank for a long time. His gums were bleeding. A gray 
lizard sat on a gray stone watching him. The sun was rising 
over the low hills. 

THE TRAMP [ 163 

In the Persian town of Asterabad he bought a gray suit and 
a soft hat. He traveled by stagecoach to Teheran. There he 
rented a room with an Armenian family who spoke Russian. 
He assumed a new name and to begin with was very care- 
ful, for he did not know if the Russian authorities would not 
try to get him back from Teheran. But from Russia there 
came ever fresh news, event followed event, and gradually 
Misha began to realize that the Russian authorities were not 
interested in him. 

His toothless mouth was unsightly, and in the fall he went 
to a dentist to have gold teeth put in. It turned out that the 
dentist was from Russia and even from the same town where 
Misha was born. Misha told him how he and his friends on 
the main street had made fools of the passers-by, and the 
dentist was much amused. His own youth had been passed 
on the very same street. He told Misha that before putting 
in his new dentures, he would have to get rid of the roots of 
the broken teeth. It was very painful, but Misha agreed. 
Every fifth day he would pay a visit to the dentist and the 
dentist would pull out some of the roots. By New Year's 
1918 his mouth gleamed with two rows of gold teeth. 

In the Persian sunlight they gleamed so brightly, Misha's 
gold teeth, that everyone who conversed with Misha invol- 
untarily screwed up his eyes. Misha was pleased, in spite 
of the fact that the dentist took almost a quarter of his capi- 

Having gotten his teeth, Misha stared to take a careful 
look around, searching for some way of investing his money. 
There were quite a few Russian business men in Teheran 
and he gradually succeeded in getting acquainted with 
them. They took a liking to him because he was a joker and 
because they guessed that he had money. Little by little he 
started to take a hand in various deals. 

But his service in the prisoner-of-war camp had perverted 

164 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

his imagination. He did not like slow, complicated deals 
which yielded insignificant returns; he was not suited to 
them. He wanted quick profits. 

But the quick profits did not come his way. 

He lived one whole year in Teheran, buying and selling 
all sorts of paltry nonsense, but the big chance never came, 
and his funds were dwindling. He left Teheran and started 
out through Persia, selling insurance policies. But the Per- 
sians lived in clay houses and were not afraid of fire. No 
one bought his policies. His money was dwindling. The only 
comfort came from the rumors of civil war in Russia: all evi- 
dence of his stealing would be wiped out once and for all 

He was sick of poverty-stricken Persia. He left and went 
first to Baghdad, where there were British troops, and then a 
few months later to Syria, which had at that time been 
seized by France. In Alexandretta he posed as a representa- 
tive of the Wrangel * government and started to sell various 
Russian documents. It was a wonderful idea and Misha's 
spirits soared. But unfortunately the real representatives of 
the Wrangel government turned up in Syria and exposed 
him. Misha left Syria and went to Palestine. 

Wearing a white suit and a tropical helmet Misha took 
the best hotel room in Jaffa. It had mirrors, a bath, and a 
view of the Mediterranean. Precisely because his affairs 
were in bad shape he pretended to be rich. He had the 
feeling that he would be through if he did not manage to 
pull off a real coup in this place. And with greedy haste he 
looked for an opening. 

This was the time when England was setting up a Jewish 
state in Palestine as a British mandate. Every day fresh ships 
brought to Jaffa fresh loads of ragged people from Rumania, 
Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania. From Jaffa these people 
were transported out to various parts of the Palestinian 
plains and allocated patches of uncultivated, rocky land. 

1 Baron Pyotr Wrangel, commander of White armies during the latter part of 
the Civil War. 

THE TRAMP [ 165 

Misha happened to see some of them, divided into groups, 
carrying stones. It reminded him of the Croats who in the 
same way had carried rails. The resemblance excited him 
and he turned all his attention to the immigrants. 

He started to observe the activities of an American char- 
ity organization which was distributing clothing to the immi- 
grants. The clothing had been given by New York Jews to 
whom it had previously belonged. Among the piles of worn, 
threadbare clothing there were some fine articles: dresses 
almost new, silk underwear, sweaters, men's suits, coats, 
even furs. All these things were being taken out to the Pales- 
tinian settlements and given away for nothing. 

The hungry immigrant, receiving free of charge a heavy 
overcoat or a wool sweater and having no use for these 
things in the hot Arabian sun, would try to sell them. He 
would also try to sell the underwear because he had no 
money to buy food. But his neighbors also all had overcoats, 
sweaters, and underwear for sale. There were no buyers. 
No one would give even small change for the clothes. 

Reckoning up what remained of his wealth, Misha rented 
a dirty old Ford and spent a month traveling around all the 
settlements between Jaffa and Jerusalem, between Bethle- 
hem and Nazareth, between the Sea of Galilee and the sea- 
board valleys at one time inhabited by the Philistines. He 
bought up skirts, dresses, coats, overcoats, trousers, furs. 
When the Ford began to overflow, he drove to Jaffa, put 
everything he had bought in storage, and set out again in 
search of fresh loot. Many of the Jews spoke Russian. This 
helped, because they regarded him as one of them. He 
would tell the men the very funny story about the rabbi 
taking a bath. With the women he got on even better than 
with the men. 

He loaded his bundles of ready-to-wear clothing on the 
first ship bound for Constantinople. He had authentic in- 
formation to the effect that the price of clothing was very 
high in Constantinople. Turkey was at war. Turkey had en- 
tered the war in 1914; it was now 1921 and Turkey was still 

166 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

at war. After the capitulation of Germany in 1918 the Turks 
had found themselves obliged to fight on for a long time, 
with the Greeks, with the Sultan, with the British. There 
were no commodities in Constantinople and the price of 
clothing was going up and up. 

Happy, Misha sat on deck beneath the awning, peeled 
and ate oranges, looked at the warm blue sea. There were 
French girls on board — slender, with dark eyebrows, wear- 
ing pink dresses. He succeeded in attracting their attention 
by feeding bread to the seagulls. The red-beaked gulls were 
flying in disorderly formation astern of the ship. Misha 
threw into the air pieces of soft bread and the gulls caught 
them in flight and swallowed them. Misha knew only a few 
phrases in French which he had learned in Syria, but the 
girls understood him perfectly. 

In Constantinople he unloaded his goods, which were 
packed in mothballs. 

Constantinople was at that time full of Russian White 
Guards fleeing from the Crimea, which had recently been 
occupied by the Reds. Everywhere he met people from his 
part of Russia — in the restaurants, in the hotels, in the streets. 
Their dejected looks gave him pleasure — he felt himself 
superior to these refugees, these failures. He got to know 
them, talked with them, even stood a beer to some, told 
them about Papaluki and Mamaluki and all the Lukis, told 
them about the rabbi taking a bath, and let fall vague hints 
about his wealth. 

He really was very rich — he had been offered huge sums 
for his clothing. But he was in no hurry to sell. He watched 
and listened. 

He met a certain Armenian merchant who had only just 
arrived from Tiflis. Tiflis was then held by the Menshevik 
Georgian government which was at war with Soviet Russia. 
This merchant dealt in just about everything and knew 
what any commodity would bring in any place. It was he 
who told Misha that ready-to-wear clothing was worth at 
least twice as much in Tiflis as in Constantinople. 

THE TRAMP [ 167 

Misha at once changed his plans. His bundles of rags 
would be changed into bars of gold. He broke off talks with 
the Constantinople buyers, loaded his wares aboard a ship 
and crossed the Black Sea to Batum. 

Batum was overcrowded and uneasy. People were sleep- 
ing underneath the palms on their suitcases. The crowds 
stormed aboard the ship in which Misha had arrived — every- 
one wanted to get out and go to Constantinople. Merchants, 
landowners, officials from all over the Caucasus had 
thronged into Batum: the Reds were closing in on Tiflis. 

"You're mad!" people said to Misha in the cafe when they 
learned that he was going to Tiflis. 

But to Misha it seemed unbelievable that his brilliant un- 
dertaking, now almost successfully accomplished, could sud- 
denly fall through. He was not afraid of the Bolsheviks. In 
Persia everyone had been afraid of the Kurds; in Arabia it 
had been the Wahabis that they feared; but Misha knew 
very well that you could sell anything and everything to the 
Kurds and to the Wahabis. He loaded his treasures into two 
Tiflis-bound freight cars. 

He was traveling in an empty train. The trains coming the 
other way were full to overflowing — there were people on 
the buffers, on top of the coaches, on the engines. When he 
arrived in Tiflis, there were red flags flying in some places 
and workers were singing in the streets. 

He spent the night in a hotel which was crammed with 
people who had not managed to get away. Everyone was 
trying to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible. People 
even walked on tiptoe along the corridors. There was some 
firing in the streets before dawn. 

In the morning he wandered along toward the station to 
have a look at the freight cars containing his clothing. Red 
Army units were making their way through the deserted 
streets. There was a commissar in charge of the station, a 
vast Caucasian wearing a shaggy black fur cap. He knew 
nothing about Misha's two cars and was not in the least bit 
interested in them. Misha went to look for them himself and 

168 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

wandered for a long time along the different tracks. The 
depots and trains were guarded by men with rifles. They 
chased Misha away, but he kept coming back. Eventually a 
switchman Misha talked to told him that the freight train 
which had arrived the day before from Batum had left be- 
fore dawn for Baku without unloading. 

Misha cursed the Armenian in Constantinople who had 
advised him to go to Tiflis, climbed into a heated freight 
car, and traveled for three days through country which had 
just been cleared of Whites. He reached Baku. His freight 
cars were not in Baku. But he had written down the num- 
bers in a notebook and was able to find out from the duty 
stationmaster that they had been sent on to Rostov. He 
spent four nights in Baku at the ticket office and managed 
to get a ticket for Rostov. 

It was March, and for the first time in many years Misha 
saw snow. There was not much snow in Rostov, but in Voro- 
nezh it was only just beginning to thaw. Misha arrived in 
Voronezh ahead of his cars. He spent a week in Voronezh, 
waiting. Finally they arrived — he saw them himself on the 
rusty siding. He wandered about in their vicinity, filled 
with longing. Their firmly closed doors were sealed. 

Misha pulled out the shipping receipts which had been 
given him in Batum by the Whites. But when the railroad 
officials saw the stamps on Misha's receipts, they advised 
him not to show the documents to anyone. Misha realized 
that his Palestinian merchandise was somehow no longer 
his. He was completely at a loss. Now he no longer thought 
that the Bolsheviks were like the Kurds and the Wahabis. 
All day he walked the streets of Voronezh, fighting down 
his anger and despair. 

That night the freight cars left Voronezh. Misha again 
dashed off in pursuit. He did not know what he would do 
when he caught up with them, but he just could not let 
them go. He followed them to Kazan. They were not in 
Kazan. He hurried on to Sorapul, to Krasnoufimsk, to Sverd- 

THE TRAMP [ 169 

lovsk. Spring turned to winter, the weather became colder 
and colder, there was more and more snow on the ground. He 
traveled interminably in trains through mountain valleys, 
through dark towering forests. 

He finally caught up with his cars in Chelyabinsk. They 
were standing on a siding. The dirty snow was melting 
around them. 

Misha dashed up the low embankment. 

He reached the cars, looked inside. It was all dark and 
empty. A few bits of mothball gleamed on the floor. 

He came back to his home town, but did not find his father 
there. He found nothing of what had been familiar to him 
before. The stores were boarded up and those which were 
doing business belonged to the co-operative. Of his friends 
and relatives not one remained. He happened to meet an 
old man who had worked in one of his father's fishmonger 
stores. The old man told him that Misha's mother was dead, 
that his father had been in prison several times because he 
was a bourgeois. He had moved to Petrograd six months 
earlier, not wishing to remain in his home town, where he 
was too well known. 

Misha sold his leather suitcase at the market, sent his fa- 
ther a telegram, and left for Petrograd. His father met him 
at the station. Misha did not recognize his father till the lat- 
ter rushed up to embrace him. So that's what he had become, 
his father! Once he had looked formidable and dignified. 
Once he had been corpulent and worn a mustache. Once he 
had worn a frock coat, made of cloth as thick as armor, and 
he had walked with his head thrown back. Of his former 
dignity nothing now remained. He was very small, like a 
mouse. A gray blouse outlined his stooped shoulders. His 
mustacheless face was sagging and baggy. His head had a 
broad moist bald spot. There were gray wisps of hair over 

170 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

his ears. The veins on his temples were knotted like an old 
man's. The only familiar thing about him was his smell — the 
scarcely perceptible smell of fish. 

Misha's father was glad to see him, though he seemed a 
little disappointed when he saw that Misha did not possess 
even a suitcase. They went on foot through the broad streets, 
bright in the strong May sunlight. When they reached the 
entrance and started to go up the stairs, Misha had the feel- 
ing that his father was slightly embarrassed. 

His fathers small apartment was not as bad as might 
have been expected. The rooms were crammed with furni- 
ture which was tattered and dirty, but expensive. There 
were a great many locked chests, cupboards, and chests of 
drawers, and Misha had the thought that in these chests, 
cupboards, and chests of drawers something there must 
surely be. Suddenly there was a rustling sound from the 
next room and a corpulent middle-aged woman in a colored 
gown came out to meet him. She had a white complexion 
and dark eyes. "Oho!" thought Misha. 

It was his father's new wife. So he had married again 
after the death of Misha's mother. He stood hesitantly on the 
threshold, waiting to see how the meeting would pass off 
between Misha and his stepmother. But the meeting was a 
complete success. Misha's stepmother put her fleshy arms 
around his neck, drew herself close to his face, and kissed 
him. She had a drawling southern speech and, talking with- 
out stopping, she was telling Misha how glad they were to 
see him and how much his father had missed his son. 

"But where are your suitcases?" she asked. 

Misha was put in the back room. A dim window looked 
out onto the courtyard. A worn leather couch stood near the 
window between two cupboards and Misha at once lay down 
on it. 

Day after day, night after night, he lay on the couch, get- 
ting up only when he was called to eat. After he had finished 
eating, he lay down again. He never went out into the street. 
Days passed, nights passed, summer came, hot stuffy air 

THE TRAMP [ 171 

came in through the small ventilation window; still he lay 
and stared at the dirty curling flakes of plaster on the ceiling. 

Sometimes his father came in, sat down at his feet on the 
edge of the couch, and talked about business. The New 
Economic Policy had begun, private trade had been sanc- 
tioned, and his father was beginning to be hopeful about 
his prospects. He had already opened a fish stall in the 
market — a paltry two-bit affair. But at the same time he had 
succeeded in re-establishing some of his old business con- 
nections with men in the fishing industry in the north, con- 
nections which the local fish merchants did not have. If he 
now had capital, in such a large city as Petrograd he could 
have developed a really worthwhile business. His father 
sighed. Unfortunately he had not been able to save anything. 
If it had turned out that Misha had brought something back 
from abroad . . . But since he had brought nothing, there 
was no sense talking about it. Since things were this way, it 
would be a good idea if Misha were to go to work with the 
Soviets. Why not indeed? It would not be a question of the 
pay, that would be worth almost nothing. But it would make 
a difference in the way the authorities acted toward the 
family. . . . 

"Tell me, Papa, in a train how do you sit down on the 

His father reflected a moment. 

"With my backside/' he answered naively. 

"Well, I sit down as a passenger!" 

No, Misha is no idiot. He's not fool enough to go to work 
here. Misha is not about to do anything here. What's the 
sense in doing anything in a country where the state itself 
directs the trade, where the land and the factories are not 
bought and sold? Misha felt like a prisoner. He lay on his 
couch and dreamed of escape. 

Sometimes, when his father was not home, his stepmother 
would come into his room. She wore a dressing gown and 
slippers, but no stockings. She was round. Smiling, she would 
sit at his feet on the edge of the couch and try to get a con- 

172 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

versation going. She very much wanted to know what he 
had been doing abroad, and she asked him many questions. 
But he was morose and taciturn. Then she would start to 
talk about herself. She told him of her life in the town where 
Misha was born. She had had a friend who had left with 
the Whites and gone abroad. She had been getting ready to 
follow him, but had waited one day too long and then there 
was no way through. And she had married Misha's papa. It 
was true that he was old, but he was kind. One day as he 
listened to her talk, Misha got up from the couch, put his 
arms round her, and kissed her. She screamed, tore herself 
loose, and ran out of the room. He did not run after her. He 
lay down again on the couch. 

He lay and listened to what she was doing on the other 
side of the wall in the bedroom. She was quiet at first, then 
she started to walk around, tapping loudly with her heels. 
Perhaps she wanted to attract his attention. But he lay si- 
lently on the couch. About ten minutes later she came qui- 
etly up to the door of his room. She was standing behind the 
door. He could hear her breathing. But he did not move. 
"Let her stand there," he thought. 

When his father returned from the market, he would come 
into Misha's room as before, but he no longer talked with 
him about going to work with the Soviets. He would look 
at him and sigh, and seemed all the time to be waiting for 
something from Misha. Once or twice, as though casually, 
he mentioned that in the north some wealthy people in the 
fishing industry had launched into a new business: they 
were taking people to Norway in their boats. He had known 
these people for about twenty years and they knew him. 
What did they require? Only the guarantee of a reliable per- 
son and the money. 

At these words everything turned upside down in Misha's 
stomach, but he pretended that he was completely indiffer- 
ent. He was in no hurry. He would lie a bit longer on his 
couch and wait. His father would become more generous 
with time. 

THE TRAMP [ 173 

His stepmother gave up visiting his room. But she often 
stood outside his door. She no longer addressed him so 
readily as at the beginning and she was terribly embar- 
rassed when he looked at her. Sometimes, with his father 
there at dinner, he would amuse himself by staring into her 
face without saying anything, without smiling, without mov- 
ing a muscle of his face. Under his gaze she would become 
confused, gasp for breath, and from every pore sweat would 
appear on her face. 

The summer was passing, and his father's business was 
constantly expanding. From what he said Misha soon real- 
ized that his father no longer had one stall in one market, but 
several stalls in each of several markets. He was already 
looking over a location to set up a store. The store would 
contain a large aquarium with live fish. Although he still 
wore the gray blouse and still complained that he had lost 
everything, his eyes had regained their confidence and more 
and more often Misha recognized in him his old ways and 

"If you like, Misha, I can give you a letter of recommenda- 
tion," his father said, sitting down on Misha's couch. 

"Are you driving me away, Papa?" Misha asked. 

His father smiled, looked him in the eye, and said noth- 

Misha refused to accept the letter unless his father would 
give him money. But evidently his father still thought that 
Misha had money. He offered only one thousand rubles — 
in old Czarist notes. He tried to assure his son that one 
thousand old notes was exactly what they charged for the 
crossing. Misha did not take the money and continued to lie 
on his couch. Then his father started to offer more. He in- 
creased his offer gradually, every two or three days. At five 
thousand old notes he stopped. 

"I don't need paper notes abroad," Misha said. "Give me 
something more solid." 

But he realized by now that his father would not give him 
anything more solid. July came to an end; it was the begin- 

174 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

ning of August. If he did not leave before fall, he would have 
to wait till the following summer. Misha accepted the letter 
of recommendation and the five thousand. 

His father grew more cheerful. Misha also grew more 
cheerful. They both grew much more cheerful. Misha went 
to the station to find out the departure times of the trains 
for Murmansk. He came back and told his father and step- 
mother that the trains for Murmansk left twice a week — 
on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It was Wednesday. Three days 
to Saturday. 

Next morning, when his father was not at home, Misha 
heard the splashing of water on the other side of the wall. 
He got up from his couch, went into the corridor and pushed 
open the bedroom door. Her hair undone, in her colored 
gown, his stepmother was standing in the middle of the 
room, holding in her hands a white earthenware washbasin. 
Seeing Misha, she dropped the basin and it broke into sev- 
eral pieces. The water splashed all over the floor. Saying 
nothing, Misha kicked the broken pieces aside and ad- 
vanced on his stepmother. He seized hold of her and kissed 
her. She offered no resistance. 

Ten minutes later, as they sat together on the edge of the 
bed, he proposed that she go with him. He showed her the 
letter his father had written. It was addressed to a certain 

w ""II 

Fedor Akimovich Lapshin in the fishing village of Ust-Shan. 
He told her that he had lied on purpose about the train 
schedule and that the Murmansk train actually left not on 
Saturday but tomorrow, Friday, at 2:40 in the afternoon — 
when his father would not be at home. She was frightened, 
despondent, crushed. But she agreed to everything. 

He told her that abroad he must have at least some money 
to start with, otherwise they would be lost. Didn't his father 
have any money? But it turned out that she didn't know at 
all what his father had and did not have. His father did not 
let her in on his affairs and kept nothing in the house. At 
first Misha didn't believe her; then he became angry. She be- 
came terribly frightened when she saw that he was angry. 

THE TRAMP [ 175 

She routed about in a chest of drawers and from under a pile 
of underwear she brought out two earrings, wrapped in pa- 
per. They were her own. He took them over to the window 
and examined them. His face lit up. The diamonds were un- 
doubtedly genuine. Yes, that would be as good as money. 
He told her to sew the earrings into the lining of his trousers. 
She did so. 

That evening his father was even more cheerful than the 
day before. He kept on patting Misha on the back and on 
the shoulders. He worried about Misha catching cold on 
the journey. And he kept on saying how sorry he was that 
he had nothing to give him. Misha was also exceptionally 
lighthearted, kept laughing and winking. In a gay mood 
they sat down to table — his father next to his stepmother, 
Misha opposite. His father put a small bottle of vodka on 
the table. Misha drank off a small glass and told the story 
of how a husband and wife went to bed, but the blanket was 
short. The husband pulled the blanket up to his chin and 
their feet stuck out. The husband looked and he saw that 
there were six feet instead of four. 

"See here," the husband said, giving the wife a shove, 
"why have you and I got six feet?" 

"Idiot," the wife said. "There aren't six. Count them again. 
There are four." 

The husband counted them again — there were still six. 

"You don't know how to count!" the wife screamed. "Get 
out of bed and count them properly." 

The husband got out of bed and counted the feet. 

"Quite right," he said, "there are four." 

Misha's stepmother gasped for breath and her brows grew 
moist. His father laughed wholeheartedly. Misha himself 
laughed a lot. Roaring with laughter, he loudly slapped him- 
self on the knees, while the yellow gleam from his teeth 
flitted across the faces of his father and stepmother. 

Next day, Friday, his father left the house early. Misha 
heard the door slam shut behind him, but for a long time he 
continued to lie on his couch. He heard his stepmother mov- 

176 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

ing about in the bedroom. She was crying. He remained on 
the couch until half past eleven, got dressed, and went in to 
see her. Frightened, she wiped her swollen eyes. On the 
floor there were open suitcases, but she evidently did not 
know what to pack in them. He himself opened the chest of 
drawers, examined her underwear, her dresses, and gave her 
advice. The packing and the discussion about what should 
be packed gradually took her mind off other problems and 
she brightened up. He walked about the room whistling, 
while she showed him the various things and asked whether 
she should take them or not. If he saw that she liked some- 
thing, he advised her to take it. Both suitcases were full, 
and more and more packages and bundles littered the floor. 
Three times she asked him what the time was, but each 
time he told her not to hurry. He said that he would fetch a 
cab when it was time. 

At ten minutes of two she started to get dressed. It was 
after two when he went out to get a cab, leaving her alone 
in the apartment with the luggage. Without hurrying he 
went down the stairs, without hurrying he walked to the cor- 
ner. The letter was in his pocket. The five thousand Czarist 
rubles hung around his neck in a small canvas bag. The two 
earrings were sewn into his trousers. 

Twenty-five minutes remained until train time. Misha 
took a cab and, without going back for his stepmother, left 
for the station. 

Misha walked slowly along the shore of the bay. The waves 
were almost touching his feet. The huts of the village of Ust- 
Shan lay around the bay in a semicircle. Out in the bay the 
bare black masts of the fishing vessels rolled back and forth. 
Above the masts there circled a noisy flock of gulls, like some 
wheel of eternal motion. Beyond the huts were rocky, bar- 
ren ridges of hills. A large sun hung low in the sky; you could 


look at it without squinting. The cliffs cast long dark-red 

Misha had in his time been in the Central Asian steppes, 
in Persia, in Arabia. He had seen the Mediterranean, the 
islands of the Greek Archipelago, and the Bosporus. Now he 
was walking on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. But now, as 
before, he was indifferent to what he saw around him. 
Wherever fate took him, he remained always the same. His 
surroundings might change, but Misha was unchangeable, 
like a small coin that passes from pocket to pocket. 

Arriving at the end of the village, he looked around and 
made out a hut which stood apart from the others on the 
slope of the hill. Then he turned around to see if anyone had 
been following him. But all around it was deserted and he 
walked unhurriedly up the slope. 

He was met at the doorway by a lanky youth of about 

"Who do you want?" the youth asked Misha in an un- 
friendly manner, barring his way. 

"Does Fedor Akimovich Lapshin live here?" 

"What do you want to know for?" 

"I have a letter," Misha said. "From Petrograd." 

"From Petrograd," the youth echoed with indifference, 
just as if he were hearing the word for the first time. 

At this point Misha was rescued from his predicament by 
a deep and sullen voice which boomed out from inside the 

"Kondratij, let him in." 

Kondratij stepped to the side, and Misha opened a door 
lined with heavy felt. 

He was struck by a wave of stuffy air. The windows of the 
room were heavily curtained and let in no light. At first, 
Misha's eyes could distinguish only the half-opened jaws of 
an iron stove in which crumbling slabs of peat glowed red- 
hot, and the small flames of many lamps burning in the cor- 
ner before the icons. 

178 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

The icons covered the entire right-hand corner — from 
floor to ceiling. A small lamp was burning before each icon, 
and one large lamp — as large as a soldier's mess tin — was 
hanging in front of the whole array. The icons depicted 
heads cut off by swords, emaciated visages with the fangs of 
black serpents piercing their temples, the fires of hell sur- 
rounded by devils with the faces of swine and horses. 

"Surely he doesn't keep his money behind the icons?" 
thought Misha. "No, he's not that simple. He buries his 
money in the earth." 

When Misha's eyes had become accustomed to the dark, 
he saw an elderly peasant sitting on a bench. The peasant 
was broad-shouldered, thick-set, with shaggy eyebrows. His 
large beard was gray at the edges, but its black, egg-shaped 
center clearly showed through the gray hairs. His strong, 
lusterless dark eyes were fixed on Misha. 

"Fedor Akimovich?" Misha asked. 

The peasant examined Misha's face in silence. Then he 

"Take off your cap in front of the icons." 

"He's going to be difficult," Misha thought, hurriedly pull- 
ing off his cap. He felt that he was afraid of this peasant. 

"I've brought you a letter." 

Misha pulled out the letter and handed it to Lapshin. 
Lapshin took the letter, got up, and went over to the lamps. 
He stood there reading for a long time, soundlessly moving 
his lips. Misha waited. He wanted to smoke. He pulled out 
a cigarette and bent over a small lamp to light it, but did not 
dare. Who knows what rules they have? He carefully took 
the cigarette from his lips and hid it in his pocket. 

Lapshin finished reading, carefully folded the sheets to- 
gether, and held them up to a lamp. The flame started to 
creep along the paper and finally reached the brown fingers 
with their large, cracked nails. Then Lapshin threw the light 
black ashes on the floor. 

"Kondratij!" he shouted. 

Kondratij came in, carrying an earthenware pot. He set 

THE TRAMP [ 179 

the pot down on the table and put out two plates and two 
tin spoons. 

"Sit down," Lapshin said to Misha, and Misha obediently 
sat down. 

Lapshin poured the soup out into the plates. Misha took 
his spoon and started to eat. Lapshin sat right opposite him 
and also ate. Kondratij did not sit down. 

The heat was unbearable. The soup reeked of fish fat. But 
Misha swallowed it, deciding to submit to everything. When 
the soup was finished, Kondratij took the pot away and 
brought in a dish of roasted fish. Lapshin sucked the verte- 
brae with his thick lips. Misha carefully spat out the small 
bones onto the lower part of his coat. 

"My papa wrote to you . . ." Misha began, feeling as 
though his voice somehow did not belong to him, it was too 
high-pitched, and he stopped short. 

Lapshin said nothing. 

After a little while Misha began again: 

"I have not come empty-handed, Fedor Akimovich. I un- 
derstand, of course . . ." 

It was as though Lapshin had not heard. 

He was sucking the bones, pulling them out of his mouth 
with his fingers, and laying them down on the edge of the 

"I can even pay with Czarist . . ." 

Misha gasped for breath and the sweat ran down his 
cheeks over his collar. 

"I've got fifteen hundred . . ." 

"Five thousand," Lapshin said. 

Misha wanted to laugh, he wanted to say: "You're joking!" 
but he said nothing and the laugh didn't come. Lapshin 
continued to eat in silence, staring at his plate. "Only I won't 
give him anything, until he's taken me over," Misha thought. 

"Hand it over," Lapshin said, standing up. 

Misha pulled out the small bag from under his shirt, ripped 
it open, and handed over all the money to Lapshin. 

With a single movement of his fingers Lapshin fanned out 

180 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

the notes like cards, brought them together again, and thrust 
them into his pocket. 

Then he opened the door into a small adjoining room, let 
Misha in, and left him there alone. The room was minute, 
with one small window, so small and low that you could only 
see out by bending down. Misha bent down, looked, but 
could see nothing except rocks. He lay down on the bed 
without undressing. "It doesn't matter," he tried to console 
himself. "Tomorrow 111 be there." 

He lay there for many hours, able to hear nothing except 
the thunder of the waves as they broke on the shore. No one 
came into his room. He tried not to sleep, he was sure that 
he would not go to sleep, but he fell asleep unawares. He 
was awakened by a light tap at the window. 

Misha got out of bed and went over to the window. He 
saw — very close — Lapshin s face. The edges of the black 
beard were gray and seemed to shine. Lapshin signaled 
with his hand. 

Misha went outside. He caught his breath — the wind was 
blowing so savagely. A brown cloud was moving in across 
the land, concealing the huts and rocks. The wind was chas- 
ing it, pummeling it, swirling it along. At once Misha was 
soaked through to his shirt. It was almost dark, though at 
times through the flying mist Misha could see the sun hang- 
ing above the horizon. 

Lapshin appeared from out of the fog. A double-barreled 
gun was slung across his shoulders. 

He shouted something at Misha, but the wind drowned 
out his words, and Misha could catch nothing. Lapshin led 
him right along the water's edge over the pebbles. The wind 
was blowing from the shore and pushing them into the wa- 
ter. Sometimes the fog would clear for a moment and Misha 
could make out now the long crest of a wave, now the cor- 
ner of a house. 

Misha was running, trying not to lose Lapshin in the fog. 
They went through the village and beyond. Half an hour 

THE TRAMP [ 181 

later, gasping from trie wind, they reached the headland 

Kondratij was sitting in a small boat, bailing out the water 
with a tin scoop. Misha climbed into the boat and sat down 
on the thwart. Lapshin pushed the boat off from the shallows 
and jumped in when it was already under way. 

At once the shore disappeared. There was nothing around 
except the waves and the swirling fog. The boat was buf- 
feted by the wind. Kondratij and Lapshin rowed. 

Misha was already completely shaken up by the waves, 
when he suddenly saw, quite close, the high, black hull of 
a fishing vessel. Kondratij caught hold of the cable and 
climbed aboard. Lapshin, in spite of his weight, easily 
climbed up the cable after Kondratij. Misha also caught 
hold of the cable but his feet slipped, and he could not haul 
himself up. Lapshin drew the cable up and dragged Misha 
up on deck as though he were a sack. 

Almost at once the sails were hoisted and the anchor 
cable was hauled in. The vessel started out through the 
fog for the open sea. Twenty minutes later the engine started 
to chirr. 

It was warm in the cabin near the iron stove, but the 
warmth made Misha sicker. He grabbed at the metal hand- 
rails and climbed up on deck. There he sat down near the 
mast. The wind went right through him. The waves washed 
over the deck and soaked his boots. But he no longer cared. 
He was already completely wet through. 

Behind him Lapshin stood at the helm. He did not look 
at Misha, he was looking at the sea. But his proximity op- 
pressed Misha. Misha shivered with cold, trying to huddle 
up into a smaller space. 

Frozen stiff on deck, no longer able to stand the cold, 
Misha again went below to the stifling cabin. He lay down 
on a bunk built into the side of the ship. Close by, on the 
other side of the thin planks, the water surged. When Misha 
turned over onto his left side, the diamond earrings sewn 

182 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

into the left side of his trousers bit into his leg. Weakened 
by the buffeting and by sickness, he turned over from side 
to side and listened to Kondratij who, leaving the engine 
for a minute, was throwing logs into the stove and heating 
up the teakettle. The hours passed. 

Finally, Misha saw that the handrail near the hatch was 
shining and realized that it had grown light outside. He 
jumped up and made his way up on deck. 

The fog had disappeared, the sun was shining, and the 
contorted shadow of the mast lay across the waves. The 
air was transparent and clear. 

They were heading straight for the shore. And the shore 
was already quite close. 

This was the shore for which Misha had so longed. This 
was the way out into the world where prevailed those rules 
of life so dear to Misha. 

Misha looked closely at the ridges of the hills, trying to 
see houses and people. But there were no houses, no peo- 
ple. Reddish-brown and black cliffs, clefts, boulders. In 
places, on the slopes, patches of dark-green vegetation. 

The vessel stopped in a broad bay without casting anchor 
and even without cutting out the engine. They were pro- 
tected from the wind by the shore, and it at once became 
warmer. Hand over hand Lapshin pulled the rowing boat 
right up alongside and jumped down into it. The rifle bar- 
rels across his shoulders reflected the sky's pale blue. 

"Jump down!" he shouted to Misha. 

Misha jumped down, seated himself, and caught hold of 
the thwart with his hands in order not to fall overboard — 
they were pitching and rolling so violently. In silence Lap- 
shin rowed to the shore. 

Jumping out onto the crunching pebbles and feeling the 
earth beneath his feet, Misha at once started to walk away 
from the shore. He wanted to be rid of Lapshin as quickly 
as possible. 

But Lapshin suddenly said: 

"I'm going with you." 


And Misha did not dare to argue. 

They set off up the slope of the hill. The sun gently 
warmed their shoulders. Misha walked in front, Lapshin 
behind. The bilberry bushes were waist high, and at every 
step they could hear the large watery berries falling on the 

"I can't go any farther," Lapshin said suddenly. "Go on 

And he stopped. 

Not bidding him farewell, Misha started on up. He had 
gone fifty paces, when he suddenly felt that Lapshin was 
still standing in the same spot. 

He turned around. 

Lapshin, pressing to his shoulder the butt of his double- 
barreled rifle, was taking careful aim. 

Misha started to run uphill. 

And at once he heard the rifle shot. 

Lapshin had missed. 

The bilberry branches felt springy beneath his feet. His 
whole body was waiting for the second shot and he kept 
running. If only he could make the crest of the hill and get 
over the top, where he would be hidden. 

For one second, from the top of the hill, at a distance of 
about two versts, he caught sight of a wooden hut with an 
unfamiliar flag flying over its roof. 

But the second shot rang out and Misha fell on his back, 
failing to make it over the crest. 

He fell head down, feet up, his mouth open. Lapshin, 
thrusting his arm through the sling of the rifle, started to 
walk slowly toward him. 

He undid all Misha's buttons and went carefully through 
all the pockets of his coat, jacket, and trousers. The pockets 
were empty, and he tore Misha's shirt to see if he had any- 
thing concealed on his body. But on the body too there was 

Lapshin doggedly turned the body on this side and that, 
feeling it all over. They were both slowly sliding down the 

184 ] Nikolai Chukovsky 

slope. The sun shone on Misha's teeth. Lapshin diligently 
searched him. But his fingers never encountered the earrings 
which had been sewn into the left trouser leg. 

Giving up in despair, Lapshin struck Misha heavily on 
the open mouth with his heel. The teeth fell out of place. 
Lapshin went down on one knee, stuck his fingers into 
Misha's throat, and pulled out the two gold dentures. With 
the flap of his jacket he carefully wiped off the saliva and 
blood and put the gold dentures in his pocket. 


\\harabarov belongs to the young generation of Soviet poets. He 
regards himself as a disciple of Pasternak, for which he was 
publicly exposed at the inaugural Congress of the Union of 
Writers of the RSFSR in 1958. Kharabarov, together with an- 
other young poet, Pankratov, was expelled from the Gorky 
Literary Institute and from the Komsomol for having exhibited 
a portrait of Pasternak in the university hostel and for having, 
horribile dictu, secretly visited Pasternak at his dacha in Pere- 
delkino, despite frequent warnings. After the third Congress 
of Soviet writers in 1959, Kharabarov was reinstated, as a result 
of Khrushchev's conciliatory address, and he reappeared, to- 
gether with Pankratov, as an emissary of the Central Committee 
of the Komsomol in Alma-Ata, where the Party newspaper 
Kazakhstanskaya Pravda published "Untrodden Path" on August 
2, 1959. This poem was perhaps written in justification of the 
lonely path which had led Kharabarov to Pasternak's dacha. 
Translation by Walter N. Vickery. 


Untrodden Path 

I walk, 

I breathe the aroma of mint, 
My feet in the grass 

leave scarce a trace: 
Only here and there 

the leaves lie crumpled 
And the stalks 

sway lightly to and fro. 
With my ax 

186 ] Ivan Kharabarov 

on the trees 

I blaze my trail, 
And the blazes show, 

as I go my way: 

and visible from afar 
They beckon new travelers — 

on and on. 
Not at once will they heal, 

the wounds, 
The wounds that my ax 

has left behind. 
But soon from the trees 

green resin will flow, 
Cover them over — 

like quickening balm. 
They will lose their whiteness, 

the bark will grow, 
Myself, I'll forget 

the path I trod. 
So what! 

That's no great cause for sorrow, 
If that should be, 

no great mischance. 
Often, perhaps, 

I shall lose my way, 
My tracks will be lost 

in far-off places; 
This is better than to tread 

the beaten paths, 
Where the puddles collect, 

rotten with mold, 
Where so many feet 

have passed before, 
Where they travel 

who like 

the easy road, 


Where the dirt is trampled and pounded down 
By so many feet — 

ahead of mine. 


Yuri Kazakov is one of the most promising of the younger 
Soviet prose writers. Born in Moscow in 1927, he first studied 
music and played in an orchestra. He then attended the Gorky 
Literary Institute and began publishing only after his graduation 
in 1957. 

"The Outsider/' which appeared in 1959, is striking for its 
sympathetic treatment of an utterly asocial type for whom there 
is no question of returning to the fold. Even at the present stage 
of "objectivity" in Soviet literature, it is remarkable that the 
author was able to describe such a "vestige of the past" (and 
during the official campaign against drunkenness) without going 
out of his way to moralize. The story was subsequently criticized 
in Literary Gazette for its "ugly, distorted images" and for serv- 
ing "not good but evil." Translation by Walter N. Vickery. 


The Outsider 

Worn out by the heat of the day and having eaten his fill of 
half-fried, half-salted fish, Egor, the buoy-keeper, is asleep 
in his shack. 

His shack is new and empty. It does not even contain a 
stove. Only half the floor is finished. Bricks and unmixed 
clay lie piled inside the entrance. Along the walls tow hangs 
from the grooves between the logs. The window frames 
are new and without putty; the panes whine and rattle and 
echo back the sound of ships' sirens; ants crawl on the win- 
dow sills. 


When Egor wakes up, the sun is going down, a misty radi- 
ance suffuses the landscape, and the river is turning to a 
motionless gold. Egor yawns with an almost painful voluptu- 
ousness; for a moment animation seems to be entirely sus- 
pended, then he stretches, straining his muscles convulsively. 
His eyes are still more closed than open. With limp fingers he 
hastily rolls a cigarette and lights up. He inhales deeply, 
passionately, making a sobbing sound with his lips. He 
coughs — an act of physical pleasure — and with his rough 
fingernails he scratches hard on his chest and sides under 
his shirt. His eyes grow moist, intoxicated; his body is pos- 
sessed with a pleasant, soft languor. 

When he has smoked his fill, he goes to the hallway and 
drinks cold water as greedily as he had smoked. The water 
smells of leaves and roots, and has a pleasantly bitter taste. 
Then he picks up the oars and the kerosene lamps, and goes 
down to his boat. 

His boat is heavy to handle, full of trampled reeds. There 
is water in the bottom; it is down by the stern. Egor knows 
that he ought to bail the boat out, but he doesn't feel like 
bailing, and so, with a glance first at the sunset, then up 
and down the river, he plants his legs apart and shoves off 
— harder than necessary. 

Egor's stretch of river is not a large one. His job is to light 
the lights on four buoys, two upstream and two downstream. 
Every time he does this he spends a considerable amount of 
time figuring out whether it would be better to row up or 
downstream first. That's what he's doing at this moment. 
Now he settles himself, flails down the reeds with his oars, 
pushes away the lamps with his feet, and starts to row up- 
stream. "It's all a lot of nonsense," he thinks to himself, as he 
begins to loosen up and get warmer, rowing with short, 
jerky strokes, his body moving rapidly back and forth, his 
gaze roving over the darkening shoreline, now turning pink, 
which is reflected in the calm water. Astern his boat leaves 
a dark mark on the gold of the water and regular swirls 
fanning out to either side. 

190 ] Yuri Kazakov 

The air is growing colder, the swallows fly low over the 
water uttering shrill screeches, the fish are jumping close to 
shore, and every time one jumps Egor's expression seems to 
convey his long-standing personal acquaintance with that 
particular fish. From the shore there drifts the smell of wild 
strawberries, hay, and dew-drenched shrubs; from the bot- 
tom of the boat comes the smell of fish, kerosene, and reeds; 
and from the water there rises a scarcely visible mist, and 
there is a feeling of depth and mystery. 

Egor lights the red and white lights and fixes them in 
their places on the buoys, then lazily, with an effortless 
grace, almost without using the oars, he rows downstream 
and does the same thing there. The buoys burn brightly and 
can be seen a long way off in the gathering dusk. Meanwhile 
Egor rows rapidly back upstream, ties up just below his 
shack, washes, looks at himself in the mirror, puts on his 
boots and a clean shirt, rams his sailor's cap at an angle hard 
down on his head, rows over to the opposite bank, makes 
fast to the bushes, steps ashore onto the grass, and peers 
searchingly ahead into the sunset. 

The grass is already covered with mist and there is the 
smell of damp. 

The mist is so thick and white that at a distance it looks 
like flood water. Egor moves forward like a man walking in 
his sleep, swimming in mist to his shoulders. Only the tops 
of the haystacks can be seen, only the black strip of the 
woods in the distance beneath the soundless sky in which 
the colors of the sunset have now been almost completely 

Egor raises himself on tiptoe, cranes his neck, and finally, 
over the mist, he makes out a pink kerchief in the distance. 

"O-o-o-oh!" he hails in a resonant tenor voice. 

And from far away there is a faint response. 

Egor quickens his pace, then bends down and, just like a 
quail, runs along the path. Turning off the path, he lies 
down, his knees and elbows smeared with green from the 
grass, and with pounding heart peers out toward the spot 


where he saw the pink kerchief. A minute passes, two min- 
utes, but no one comes, there is no sound of footsteps, and 
Egor can stand it no longer; he rises to his feet and looks 
out above the mist. He sees only the last of the sunset, the 
strip of distant wood, the black tops of the haystacks; every- 
thing is a dim bluish gray. "She's hiding!" he thinks raptu- 
rously, impatient with desire. Again he dives into the mist 
and advances stealthily toward where the sun has set. He 
fills his lungs, holding his breath, the blood comes to his 
face, his cap begins to cut into his forehead. Suddenly, quite 
close, he catches sight of an indistinct, huddled shape and he 
trembles with surprise. 

"Stop!" he yells wildly. "Stop, or 111 kill you!" 
His boots clumping, he sets off in pursuit, and she runs 
away, with a screech of laughter, dropping something from 
her purse. He quickly catches her, they roll together onto 
some soft molehills which smell of fresh earth and mush- 
rooms, and in the mist they lock together in a close, happy 
embrace. Then they get to their feet, find the object she 
dropped from her purse, and stroll slowly toward the boat. 
As before, only their heads are visible above the mist, and 
to both of them it seems that they are like sleepwalkers, 
swimming somewhere, drunk with the ringing of the blood 
in their ears. 

Egor is very young, but he's already a drunkard. 

His wife too was a drunkard — an untidy slut of a woman, 
much older than Egor, who drowned during the fall freeze. 
She had gone to the village for vodka; on the way back she 
had started to drink and had got drunk; she had walked 
along, singing songs. Reaching the riverbank opposite the 
shack, she had called out: 

"Egor, you bum, come out and look at me!" 

Throwing on a sheepskin coat and putting some tattered 

192 ] Yuri Kazakov 

shoes over his bare feet, Egor had come out of the shack, 
happy at her return. He had watched her as she came across 
the ice, waving her bag, and he had seen her start to do a 
dance in the middle of the river. He had been on the point 
of shouting to her to hurry, but it was too late: as he watched, 
the ice gave way and his wife went straight under. He threw 
off the sheepskin coat and the old shoes, and ran out bare- 
foot onto the ice, wearing only his shirt. The ice cracked, 
heaved gently, and gave beneath him. He fell down, and 
crawled on his stomach as far as the patch of open water. 
He took one look at the dark, swirling water, gave out a 
wail, screwed up his eyes, and crawled back. Three days 
later he closed up the shack and went to spend the winter 
in his own village, three versts away on the opposite bank. 

But one day, during the next spring floods, he ferried 
young Alenka from Trubetskoi across the river. When she 
started to get out her fare money, Egor said suddenly and 

"That's all right . . . That's all a lot of nonsense . . . But 
sometime come and visit me: I live alone, and it's dull. And 
there's some clothes to be washed, a man can get lousy with- 
out a woman. And I'll give you some fish." 

When two weeks later Alenka, who was on her way back 
to her village from somewhere, walked into his shack one 
day toward evening, his heart started to pound so hard 
that it frightened him. And for the first time in his life Egor 
really put himself out for a woman; he ran outside, brought 
kindling, and got a small fire going in the bricks. He put on 
a sooty teakettle and started to ask her questions about her 
life. He would suddenly fall silent in the middle of a phrase, 
embarrassing Alenka to the point of tears and embarrassing 
himself. He washed and put on a clean shirt in the hallway. 
When he took her back across the river, night had fallen, 
and he went with her a long way through the fields on the 
far side. 

Now Alenka visits him often and each time she stays in 
the shack for about three days. When she's with him, Egor 


is cool and bantering. When she's not there, he's bored. He 
doesn't know what to do with himself; nothing he does turns 
out right; he sleeps a lot, and he has bad, disturbing dreams. 

Egor has a prominent Adam's apple. He is strong but 
rather sluggish and slightly clumsy. His face is large, flabby, 
inexpressive, sleepy, with a hook nose. The summer sun and 
the wind have tanned his face till now it is almost black, and 
his gray eyes look blue. He's an odd, wayward character, 
as he himself knows to his sorrow. "I was a poor job to begin 
with," he complains, when he's drinking. "I was fathered by 
the devil, and my mother was a drunken she-goat!" 

This spring he suddenly decided to stay by himself in the 
shack for the first of May. Why he didn't go into the village, 
as he'd originally intended, he doesn't know himself. He 
lolls about on his broken-down, unmade bed, whistling softly 
from time to time. There is a high-pitched cry from the op- 
posite bank: 


Gloomily Egor emerges and goes down to the water's 

"Ego-o-orka, they say you've got to come . . ." 

A moment's silence, and then Egor shouts back: 

"Who says?" 

"Old Va-a-sia and old Fe-e-dia . . ." 

"Why didn't they come themselves?" 

"They can't come, they're drunk . . ." 

Egor looks depressed. 

"Tell them I have to work, have to wo-ork!" he shouts, 
though of course he has no work to do at all. "Right now 
they're having a good time in the village!" he reflects bitterly 
and he visualizes his drunken relatives, his mother, the ta- 
bles heaped with cold dishes, the pies, the continuous music, 
the yeasty taste of the home-brewed beer, the girls in their 
best clothes, the flags on the houses, the movie at the club; 
gloomily he spits into the water and climbs the steep slope 
to his shack. 

". . . O-o-o- . . . come over . . ." calls the voice from 

194 ] Yuri Kazakov 

the opposite bank, still trying to lure him over, but Egor is 
not listening. 

But the whole world leaves him cold — or makes him 
laugh. He is exceptionally lazy and has a lot of money, which 
comes easy to him. There is no bridge in the vicinity and 
Egor runs the only ferry service, charging a ruble for the 
trip or — when he's in a bad mood — two rubles. The work's 
too easy, fit only for an old man, and it's made him into a 
spoiled good-for-nothing. 

But sometimes Egor gets vaguely uneasy, usually in the 
evening. As he lies beside the sleeping Alenka he recalls 
his service with the navy, in the north. He remembers his 
buddies with whom, of course, he long ago lost touch. He 
remembers their voices, their faces, and even the things they 
said, but it's all blurred and he doesn't try very hard. He 
wonders how they are now and what they're doing. He 
wonders where they're living and if they remember him. 

Egor recalls a low, gloomy shoreline, the Arctic, the eerie 
northern lights in the wintertime, the small, stunted, blue- 
gray pine trees, the moss, the sand; he remembers the light- 
house in the night, its dazzling, smoky, flickering light, cast- 
ing its rays over the dead forest. 

He thinks of all this impassively and, as it were, from a 
long way off. But sometimes he suddenly begins to tremble 
strangely and odd, crazy thoughts come into his head. He 
imagines that the shoreline is still the same and the slate- 
roofed huts are still in their place. The lighthouse flashes in 
the night, and in the huts there are sailors and double- 
decker bunks. The radio is crackling away, men are talking 
together, writing letters, there is cigarette smoke in the air. 
. . . Everything is there, just the same as it was, but he's 
not there; it even seems as though he had never lived there, 
never served in the navy, and that all this is an illusion, a 

At these times he gets up and goes down to the shore 
where he wraps himself in his sheepskin coat and sits down 
under a bush. There, he strains his ears and stares out into 


the darkness at the stars reflected in the water and at the 
distant motionless bright lights of the buoys. At such mo- 
ments there is no one to see him, no need of pretense, and 
his face turns sad and brooding. He is weary at heart, he 
yearns, he yearns to go away somewhere, he yearns for a 
different sort of life. 

From the direction of Trubetskoi there rises slowly and 
then slowly dies away the deep, muffled sound of a three- 
tone whistle. A few minutes later a steamer comes into view, 
brightly lit up, paddles churning fast; it hisses steam and 
again comes the sound of the whistle. The noise of the 
churning paddles and the whistle give a hollow and quaver- 
ing echo in the woods along the shore. Egor watches the 
steamer and his yearning is stronger still. 

He can see a long way ahead; young women, smelling of 
perfume, traveling no one knows where, lie asleep in their 
cabins. Near the engine room there is the soft, sweet smell 
of steam, polished brass, and engine heat. The decks and 
guardrails are covered with dew, the yawning men on watch 
stand on the bridge, the helmsman turns the wheel. A few 
passengers, wrapped in their overcoats, are sitting on the 
upper deck, looking out into the darkness, at the buoy lights, 
at the occasional fishermen's lamp fires, at the glow from 
some factory or power station: and all this seems to them 
beautiful and marvelous and they feel the urge to go ashore 
at some small landing stage, to remain behind in the stillness, 
in the dewy cool of the night. And there's bound to be some- 
one aboard who has gone to sleep on a bench, his jacket 
pulled up over his head, his legs curled up; just for a mo- 
ment he is awakened by the whistle, the fresh air, the jolt 
as the steamer comes alongside the landing stage. . . . 

Life is passing Egor by! Why is there this ringing in his 
heart and over all the earth? What is it that beckons to him 
and disquiets him in the still evening? And why does his 
heart ache so? Why does he find no pleasure in the dewy 
meadows and the still water, no joy in the freedom of this 
life of easy and casual work? 

196 ] Yuri Kazakov 

After all, the countryside, his countryside is beautiful: 
the dusty roads he traveled on foot since he was a child; the 
villages, each one a world of its own, with its own home- 
grown expressions and turns of phrase, its own girls; the vil- 
lage where he had so often gone in the evenings, where he 
once kissed, hid in the rye, where he fought till the blood 
ran and he or the other man dropped unconscious; the blue- 
gray smoke of the campfires above the river and the buoy 
lights; and spring with the violet-colored snow on the fields, 
the immense turbid flood waters, the cold sunsets covering 
half the sky, the piles of last year's dead leaves in the ravines! 
Autumn too is beautiful in its desolation, with its light rain, 
the fragrance of the night winds, and the shack which is so 
cozy at that time of year! 

So why does he wake up? Who calls to him in the night as 
though the stars were booming over the river: "Ego-o-or!" 
He has an eerie feeling. A shiver of fear runs through him. 
Far-off places, the city with its noise and the world at large 
call to him. He longs for work, for real work — for work that 
will make him dead tired, make him happy! 

And dragging his sheepskin coat behind him, he goes back 
into the shack, lies down beside Alenka, wakes her, piti- 
fully and greedily snuggles up against her, pressing himself 
close, aware only of her, like some child on the point of 
tears. His eyes tight closed, he rubs his face up against her 
shoulder, kisses her neck. Weak with joy, with burning love, 
and with tenderness for her, he feels on his face her answer- 
ing kisses, swift and tender. Now he no longer thinks of any- 
thing or wishes for anything, wishing only that it could be 
like this forever. 

Then they whisper together, though there is no need for 
whispering. And, as always, Alenka tries to persuade Egor 
to steady down, to quit drinking, to get married, to go some- 
where else, to get himself a regular job, so that people will 
respect him and he'll get his name in the papers. 

And half an hour later, now relaxed, lazy, and mocking, 
Egor is already mumbling "Nonsense!" as usual, but he mum- 


bles absently somehow, inoffensively, secretly wishing that 
she would go on and on whispering to him, go on and on 
trying to persuade him to start a new life. 

People often pass the night in Egor's shack. They are going 
up or down river in motor boats, in canoes, and even on 
rafts. And every time the same thing happens: they cut the 
engine down on the river and then someone climbs up to 
Egor's shack. 

"Hi there, inside! Where's the master of the house?" the 
stranger says with an assumed heartiness. 

Egor doesn't answer. He snores ever so gently as he fingers 
a willow fishing basket. 

"Good evening!" The heartiness has gone out of the voice. 
"Would it be all right if we spent the night in your place?" 

Egor still doesn't answer. He even stops breathing, so en- 
grossed is he in the fishing basket. 

"How many of you are there?" he asks after a long pause. 

"They're only three of us . . . We're not fussy, we 
wouldn't trouble you . . ." the stranger says in timid hope. 
"We'd pay, of course . . ." 

Apathetically, slowly, pausing from time to time, Egor 
questions the stranger. Who are they? Where are they go- 
ing? Where have they come from? And so on. And when 
there's nothing left to ask, Egor, with apparent reluctance, 
gives his permission: 

"All right, you can spend the night." 

Then the other strangers get out of the boat, stow away 
the gear, look for a good place for the boat, and haul it up 
on shore. Then they turn it over, and carry their knapsacks, 
cans, pots, and the outboard motor into the shack. Indoors 
there is now a smell of gasoline, sweat, and boots. It is grow- 
ing stuffy. Egor livens up and shakes hands with them all. 
He's in a good mood now; he knows there is going to be 

198 ] Yuri Kazakov 

drinking. He gets busy, talking all the time, mostly about the 
weather. He shouts orders at Alenka, and builds a big, bright 
fire near the shack. 

And when the vodka is poured, Egor half closes his gleam- 
ing eyes. He breathes very slowly and very quietly, worried 
in case he doesn't get enough. Then he picks up the glass in 
his strong, tanned hand, with its broken fingernails, and says 
in a firm, cheerful tone of voice: "Here's to friendship!" and 
drains his glass, with a stony face. 

He gets drunk quickly, happily, and without effort. He 
gets drunk — and he begins to lie, fluently, with conviction, 
with enjoyment. He lies mainly about fishing, because he is 
for some reason convinced that the strangers are interested 
only in fish. 

"Fish," he says, carefully and almost reluctantly, it seems, 
taking a bite of food, "we've got all sorts of fish in this river 
... Of course, there's less nowadays, b-but . . ." — he tit- 
ters, pauses, and lowers his voice — ". . . but if you know 
how to go about it . . . Yesterday, by the way, I got a pike. 
Actually it wasn't a very big one — only fifty-four pounds 
. . . When I was out at the buoys in the morning, I heard it 
jump close to shore. I threw in my line right away, and while 
I was working on the buoys, the fish took the hook: the hook 
went straight down into his belly!" 

"Where's the pike now?" Egor is asked. 

"I took it right away to town and sold it," Egor replies 
without batting an eyelid, and goes on to describe in detail 
what the pike was like. 

And if anyone has doubts — and they always do — he's 
waiting for it. He flares up, and stretching out his hand for 
the bottle as if it belonged to him, he pours himself a triple 
shot and drinks it down quickly. Only then does he, with 
wild, drunken, absent eyes, look the doubter in the face and 

"Would you like to go with me tomorrow? You want to 
bet? What kind of motor do you have?" 

"It's an M-72," the man replies. 


Egor turns around and looks for a while at the motor 
which is propped up in the corner. 

"Is that it? That motor's a lot of nonsense," he says scorn- 
fully. "Slavka has a Bolinder. It's mine. I brought it back for 
him when I left the navy. I put it together myself. There's 
a real tiger for you: twenty kilometers an hour! Upstream 
too . . . Well, how about it? My motor against yours? Win- 
ner take both? I'll stake the Bolinder against your bit of 
nonsense! All right? One guy took me on like that, and lost 
his gun. Shall I show you the gun? It's a Tulka, made spe- 
cially. It's a real tiger, wonderfully accurate. Last winter 
with that gun I" — glassy-eyed, he ponders for a second — 
"shot three hundred and fifty hares! How about that?" 

The strangers are somewhat jarred and taken aback by 
his talk. Just to get under his skin a bit, they immediately ask 
him about the stove: 

"Say, fellow, do you live without a stove?" 

"A stove?" — Egor is shouting now — "Who can build one? 
Can you? Build one, then! There's the clay and the bricks, 
everything you need. Build it, and I'll give you a hundred 
fifty for sure! How about that? Build it, then," he goes on 
stubbornly, knowing that it can't be done and that he's won 
again. "Build it, then!" 

At this moment he notices that there's still some vodka 
left and that his guests are amused. He goes out into the hall- 
way, puts on his navy cap, unbuttons his shirt collar to 
show his navy T-shirt, and comes back. 

"Request permission," he says with drunken, exaggerated 
deference and goes on to report: "Boatswain's Mate of the 
Northern Fleet, at your service. Requests permission to con- 
gratulate you on the occasion of the anniversary of the festi- 
val of communism and socialism. All forces of the camp of 
peace are called to the struggle with the enemy, and in 
honor of this occasion give me a drink!" 

He is given a drink. Meanwhile Alenka, deeply ashamed 
for Egor, begins to prepare the beds for the night. There 
are hot tears in her eyes as she waits with impatience, al- 

200 ] Yuri Kazakov 

most with rage, the moment when Egor will astonish the 
strangers. And astonish them Egor does. 

Now quite sodden and inert from drink, he suddenly sits 
down on the bench, slumping against the wall. He twitches 
his shoulder blades and shuffles his feet as he settles himself 
in the most comfortable position. He clears his throat, lifts 
his head, and — begins to sing. 

And at the first sounds of his voice they all stop talking. 
Everyone looks at him in fear and amazement! He doesn't 
sing the popular songs of the day, though he knows them 
all and is constantly humming them; he sings in the old 
Russian way, drawing out his words, almost reluctantly, a 
little hoarsely; he sings the songs he has heard in childhood, 
the songs the old people used to sing. He sings softly, almost 
playfully, almost coyly; but his soft voice is so strong, so com- 
pelling, so truly Russian — almost the Russia of the days of 
the ancient epics — that in an instant all else has been forgot- 
ten: Egor's discourtesy and stupidity, his drunkenness and 
his boasting. Forgotten too are the long journey and the 
weariness. It is as though past and future had come together, 
and there is only this extraordinary, resonant voice that 
writhes in the air and fogs the mind. And you just want to 
go on listening forever with your head on your hand, your 
eyes closed, neither breathing nor holding back the tears! 

"You should be in the Bolshoi Theater! That's where you 
should be!" they all shout at once, when Egor stops singing. 
Excited, their eyes shining, they all want to help him, to 
write somewhere, to the radio, the newspapers, to phone 
someone. . . . They all feel joyful and festive, and Egor, 
glad of their praise, tired and now rather subdued, is once 
more his condescending and mocking self. Once more his 
face is expressionless. He vaguely imagines the Bolshoi The- 
ater, Moscow, the lights between the columns, the bright 
hall, the orchestra tuning up — he has seen it all at the movies. 
He stretches himself lazily and mutters : 

"That's all a lot of nonsense . . . theaters and all that . . ." 

And the others are no longer annoyed with him, so great 


now in his glory, so strong and mysterious is he to the stran- 

But this is not all of Egor's glory. 

This is not all of Egor's glory, but only a quarter of it. His 
real glory is when, as he himself says, "the urge comes over 
him." The urge comes over him about twice a month, when 
he is feeling particularly fed up and bored. 

At these times he sulks and drinks from early morning. 
But he drinks slowly, and from time to time he says lazily: 

"Well, then . . . Shall we go, then? What about it, eh?" 

"What about what?" — Alenka pretends not to understand. 

"Shall we sing? . . . Shall we sing a duet, eh?" Egor says 
dully, and he sighs. 

Alenka laughs scornfully and doesn't answer. She knows 
that the time hasn't come yet, that he still hasn't yet got the 
urge. She tidies up the shack, goes down to the river to wash 
some clothes, and comes back again. . . . 

Finally the time comes. This is usually toward evening. 
And now Egor no longer begs for a duet. He gets up. Un- 
kempt and gloomy, he looks out of one window, then out of 
the other. He goes outside, has a drink of water, then puts a 
vodka bottle into his pocket and picks up his coat. 

"Are you going far?" Alenka asks innocently, but she is 
beginning to tremble all over. 

"Get going!" Egor answers crudely and walks awkwardly 
through the doorway. 

His face is pale, his nostrils distended. The veins stand 
out on his temples. Alenka, coughing slightly as she knots a 
woolen scarf around her neck, walks alongside him. She 
knows that Egor will first go out onto the cliff, and will take 
a look up and down stream. Then he will think awhile as 
though he didn't know where would be best, and will then 
make for his favorite place, down by the upturned flat-bot- 
tomed boat which lies, full of holes, by the birches at the wa- 

202 ] Yuri Kazakov 

ter's edge. And there he will sing with her, but not at all the 
way he sang to the strangers. For then he sang rather casu- 
ally, a little playfully, not using anything like the full strength 
of his voice. . . . 

Egor does indeed stand on the bank for a minute thinking, 
then he goes silently down to the flat-bottomed boat. Here 
he spreads out the coat, sits down, his back against the side 
of the boat. He spreads his legs, tucking them in slightly, 
and stands the bottle between them. 

The sunset is beautiful. The mist over the fields is like 
flood water. The strip of wood in the distance is black and 
so are the haystacks. The birch branches overhead are mo- 
tionless. The grass is wet with dew. The air is still and 
warm, but Alenka feels shivery: she huddles close to Egor, 
while with a trembling hand he picks up the bottle and takes 
a swallow, grimacing and clearing his throat. His mouth is 
full of sweet saliva. 

"All right . . . " he says, twisting his neck and coughing, 
and he whispers a warning: "Be sure you come in after 
me! . . ." 

He fills his lungs with air, straining, and begins to sing — 
mournfully, in a high tenor, pure and tremulous: 

Down by the sea, 
The deep blue sea . . . 

Alenka closes her eyes. Shaking, almost in pain, she waits 
the moment, then she joins him in a low, resonant, true voice, 
in perfect unison: 

A swa-an swims with his ma-ate . . . 

Alenka no longer hears her own low-pitched, subdued, 
passionate voice! She is aware only of the gentle, grateful 
pressure of Egor's heavy hand on her shoulder, she hears 
only his voice. Ah, the sweetness and the pain of the song! 
Meanwhile Egor, his voice now soft, now swelling to full 
force, now husky and now metallically resonant, is pouring 
out in song his wonderful words, words so strange, yet so 


familiar, for they spring from the heart of the Russian peo- 
ple and reach back into the Russian past: 

A swan swims, he glides so ca-almly, 
Never rippling the fine yellow sand . . . 

How well she knows all this and how it hurts her, as 
though she had lived some time long, long ago and sung like 
this and listened to Egor's enchanted voice! On what far-off 
sea had she once drifted? It had been with him, with Egor! 
With him she had walked through the meadow in the sunset, 
beneath the stars, through the mist, had walked as in a 
trance, drunk without wine! 

Came the gray eagle . . . 

Egor groans and weeps, surrendering in deep anguish 
to the sound of the singing, straining his ears, turning slightly 
away from Alenka. And his Adam's apple trembles and 
his lips are sorrowful. Oh, the gray eagle! Why, why did he 
have to swoop down on the white swan, why did the grass 
bow its head and darkness cover the earth, why did the stars 
fall, and why was the sea churned up? O, let there be an end 
to these tears, to that voice, an end to the song! 

And so they sing, aware of nothing except the feeling that 
in an instant their hearts will break, in an instant they will 
fall dead upon the grass — and no fresh water will revive 
them. For them there will be no resurrection after such hap- 
piness and such pain. 

And when they finish singing, exhausted, stricken, happy, 
when Egor silently lays his head in her lap, breathing heav- 
ily, she kisses his pale cold face and whispers breathlessly: 

"Egor, darling ... I love you, my angel, my glory . . ." 

"That's a lot of nonsense . . ." Egor is about to answer, 
but he says nothing. His mouth tastes sweet and dry. 


Lendryakov is one of the younger Soviet prose writers of the 
"neo-realist" school which has established itself since Stalin's 
death, despite considerable opposition from the socialist realist 
purists. This story, which appeared in Novy Mir in 1960, is per- 
haps one of the most interesting Russian novellas to appear in 
recent years; Tendryakov describes Soviet life with a kind of 
Chekhovian objectivity which would have been unthinkable ten 
years ago. In the Soviet context, it is remarkable for its use of 
the jargon of the Russian underworld, for its lack of moralizing 
about a situation which may well have some symbolic reference 
to the political conditions in which it was possible for one ruth- 
less man to demoralize and terrorize the people around him, and 
for its ambiguous ending. 

The title is inspired by Pushkin's "Queen of Spades"; "three, 
seven, ace" is the winning yet fatal sequence of cards which Her- 
man, the hero of the story, ultimately fails to draw. 

The story has been cut by the editors. The first pages describe 
a lumberjacks' camp, a remote wilderness of Russia, and the 
furious rapids along the great timber-floating river which runs 
through it. Sasha Dubinin is the tough, hardheaded, yet benevo- 
lent foreman of twenty-five lumberjacks who live in nearly 
complete and austere isolation from the neighboring villages. 
Dubinin is greatly admired for his strength and courage by his 
men, and especially by the youngest, twenty-year-old Leshka 
Malinkin, who imitates all his gestures. One evening Leshka 
heroically saves a stranger from drowning in the river rapids. 
The stranger's documents identify him as a certain Nikolai 
Bushuyev who has just been released from prison. On his chest 
are tattooed the words: "Years go by but bring no luck." The pre- 
sence of this ex-convict in camp does not worry Dubinin but it 
greatly agitates Petukhov, the camp miser, who fears for his 
savings which are locked in a trunk in the lumberjack's hut. 
Translation by David Alger. 


Three, Seven, Ace 

Next morning, after the men had left, Dubinin looked into 
the hut. The bed on which the uninvited guest had slept 
was made. 

"Early bird," thought Dubinin. "Gone already. On his way, 
is he? Well, I've got his identity card. He won't go far." He 
walked back unhurriedly. 

The house in which he had his office was the only two- 
story house in the settlement. The office was on the ground 
floor, next to a room shared by the mechanic Tikhon and his 
wife Nastya, the maid. Above it was the club room with its 
desk, its bookshelf, and its table covered with a faded red 
cloth. Here the men gathered in the evenings to play domi- 
noes and listen to the radio. 

As he passed the stairs Dubinin heard a man singing in a 
low voice and playing a guitar: 

Why are some men lucky, 
All their dreams fulfilled, 
While others' lives are wretched, 
Joy and laughter killed . . . 

Dubinin went up. The stranger sat, still unshaved but 
wearing a clean shirt borrowed from someone with broader 
shoulders than his own, its collar pitifully loose around his 
stringy neck; he was nursing the guitar which had hung un- 
used over the desk for years. 

Why do some avoid 

The cruel blows of fate . . . 

206 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

At sight of the foreman he stood up hastily. 

"A very good morning, boss," he barked with forced play- 

A narrow face, evasive eyes; the smile bared a gap be- 
tween the small, tight teeth. 

Dubinin lowered himself into a chair. 

"Sit down, what's-your-name . . . Nikolai Bushuyev. We'll 
have a talk." 

"That's right, Nikolai Petrovich Bushuyev in person. I was 
making for Tormenga, further down the river, but here I 
am, landed on you by accident. Sorry I didn't let you know 
in advance so I could be met. . . ." 

"Stop joking. Where have you come from?" 

"I had a job at the saw mill. . . ." 

"Ran away?" 

"The boss is a bastard. Doesn't treat you like a human be- 
ing. Once you've been inside, he says, you're a crook, a crim- 
inal — you're through. We didn't get along." 

"That really all?" 

"Why should I mess up my life again for a swine like him? 
Better get away from temptation ... I had a couple hun- 
dred owing to me and I didn't even take that." 

"What were you in for?" 

"They say there was a good reason. I don't argue with 
them — they ought to know." 


"God forbid!" 


"Don't let's go into the details, chief. What I will say is, 
I've turned over a new leaf." 

"Believe it or not. It's a long time since I was twenty. I 
don't somehow feel like playing cops and robbers any more." 

"Where are you from? Why did you take on this job in- 
stead of going home?" 

"My home's under my hat." 


"And you never miss it?" 

Bushuyev lowered his eyelids over his oddly light, glisten- 
ing eyes, and for a second his pale, bristly face grew still, 
closed, expressionless. Dubinins chance question had 
stripped it of its assumed cheerfulness. 

"What's the good?" he said after a moment. "I know what 
it's like to go home with empty pockets." 

"I've been told that people work — where you were — and 
take their earnings with them when they come out." 

"I had a bit, but I lost it at cards to a man in the train. . . ." 

Dubinin, stolid in his chair, his coat unbuttoned, cap 
pulled low over his head, watched his visitor with his usual 
morose calm. 

"And where will you go now?" he asked. 

"Tormenga . . . There's bound to be work at the loading 

"Are you trained for anything?" 

"Jack-of-all-trades, that's me. I've chopped timber, dug 
foundations, dug up stumps . . ." 

"So you're not trained . . ." Dubinin shifted in his chair 
and turned aside. "How about this," he said, looking past his 
guest, "you can stay here. You'll have to work, like everyone 
else. A lumberjack makes a couple of thousand a month on 
an average. You've got no family, you'll spend about five 
hundred on your food and clothes. By the end of a year 
you'll have saved up fifteen to eighteen thousand. After that, 
if you like it, you stay on; if you don't, you go where you like. 
I'm offering you this for your own good, because I'm sorry 
for you. I'm not begging you to stay and I'm not forcing you, 
so don't imagine I am." 

"Why should I want to go? I don't mind, it's all the same 
to me where I kill time." 

Dubinin struck the table with his stumpy hand clenched 
into a small fist, covered with red hairs and heavy, like a 
stone from the river bed. 

"Kill time? No, my friend, you'll have to work. You don't 

208 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

get paid for killing time. And don't imagine you can get 
away with anything. This is the backwoods, the police are a 
long way off, we make our own rules. You've seen our boys? 
They'll know how to take care of you. And there's nowhere 
to run to — there's nothing but marsh and forest all around, 
even the village people don't like to go too far in. There are 
only three ways out — one to the sawmill where I don't sup- 
pose they'll make you very welcome, one to the village 
where you'd stick out like a sore thumb, and the third is 
down the river past the loading bases. All I have to do is lift 
the receiver and you'll be held till further notice. So get that 
into your skull — don't try any tricks. If I take you on, it's 
not because I trust you specially, it's because I'm not afraid 
of you — you can't do much here. That's how it is." 
Dubinin got up. 

Nikolai Bushuyev slept in the hut. Every morning he 
walked down to the boats with the rest of the men, an ax 
stuck into his belt and a gaff in his hand. When Dubinin 
asked the boys what his work was like they shrugged their 
shoulders: "All right, he pokes around." 

Leshka Malinkin slept in the bed next to Bushuyev's, and 
worked in the same gang with him. You cannot be indiffer- 
ent toward a man for whom you have committed an im- 
portant, not to say heroic, act ( Leshka had saved his life and 
that was no joke ) . He managed to be next to him at work, 
to teach him, help him, shift the stumps his weaker neigh- 
bor found too heavy. 

The guitar, which had come out of a sum of money put 
aside for popular culture and which had hung in the club- 
room for so long, was moved into the hut, and here Bus- 
huyev, lolling on his bed of an evening, would strum and sing 
of love betrayed, of crimes of passion, and of sorrows of 

Some guy in his satin tie 

May be kissing you by the gate . . . 


One evening he took down the guitar, plucked at the 
strings, and then damped them. 

"To hell with it — I've sung and played enough." 

He added an obscene rhyme, took a tattered pack of cards 
out of his pocket, shuffled it expertly, and offered it to Leshka 

"Have a game? — just for fun." 

Leshka wriggled in embarrassment. 

"I don't know how to play." 

"Ill teach you. Beginners are lucky. Don't be scared, I 
wont fleece you. Here, 111 start the bank with a ruble. You 
can stake ten kopecks if you like." 

Afterward, nobody could tell how Bushuyev happened to 
have a pack of cards. When they brought him in out of the 
rapids there was nothing in his pockets except sodden docu- 
ments and fifteen rubles in small notes. 

Bushuyev made himself at home on Leshka's bed and pa- 
tiently taught him. 

"Don't you get excited, kid. Cards don't like you if you get 
excited. Want a card? All right. Here it is. Look at that, 
you've won again. I told you you'd be lucky to start with." 

Leshka held good cards and grew pink with excitement. 
Stupnin came and stood close by; he blinked his yellow- 
fringed eyelids and shook his head. 

"It's a sinful business. How much in the bank? Only 
eighty kopecks! Well, all right, I'll have a card — just out of 

He took it, looked at it doubtfully, and drawled: 

"There's a business! Give me two more. Fancy that! Well, 
get busy, take yours. . . . My trick!" 

Others from the nearby beds joined the players and sur- 
rounded them. Petukhov watched the cards, his lips tight. 

"Ten kopecks here, ten kopecks there, before you know it 
a good red ruble is gone. It's ages since I've touched a card." 

"Better keep away now," Bushuyev agreed. "Cards don't 
take to misers." 

Toward ten o'clock they finished the last bank and counted 

210 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

the winnings: Leshka had won twenty rubles. Stupnin and 
the rest had won and lost trifling sums. Bushuyev paid. . . . 

The very next evening five of them settled down to a 
game of cards on Bushuyev's bed — just to kill time; besides 
Bushuyev himself there were Leshka, Stupnin, and two oth- 
ers — a lanky boy called Kozlov and a redhead, Savateyev. 
Curious onlookers crowded around, including Petukhov, who 
always got agitated when he saw money changing hands. 

The stakes were small. Now one man, now another got 
his bit of luck. Leshka was winning steadily again. He took 
the bank. Petukhov grunted: 

"Some people are born lucky." 

Stupnin sighed: 

"There's a business. . . . Well, you can play for kopecks 
if you like, I'm going the whole hog. Fortune favors the 

Little by little the stakes rose, until not only ruble and 
ten-ruble notes rustled on the crinkled coverlet but twenty- 
fives and even hundreds. 

Leshka was winning, so was Stupnin. From time to time 
Bushuyev calmly took more money from his pocket and 
flung it down with a careless gesture. 

"What's that? Call this a game? I remember games, my 
children, when there was ten thousand in the bank." 

Others joined in. It was after payday, everyone had 
money, and they all felt they could allow themselves a little 
leeway — they could afford a bit of fun. 

Only Petukhov, lips primly tight, watched the cards, fol- 
lowed every movement of the players' hands as they stuffed 
their winnings in their pockets, and shook his head in disap- 
proval though he never left their side. No one took any no- 
tice of him. 

When Stupnin, jubilant and steaming red, grabbed the 
bank in his huge paw, Petukhov gave Leshka a nudge. 

"Move over a bit. My legs aren't made of iron." 


"You don't mean you want to take a hand?" asked 

"Why not? Think I'm not as good as you are?" 

"You'll lose your shirt. Cards don't take to misers." 

"I'm staking a ruble," Petukhov repeated with stubborn 

"Well, well, that's quite a skirtful from a careful girl like 

Bushuyev dealt nimbly. 

Petukhov's card was swallowed up in his huge red hand 
with its broken nails; his eyes riveted on it, his lips pursed as 
though about to whistle in surprise. Bushuyev smiled his 
needling smile, blinking his deceptively transparent eyes 
and showing the gap in his strong teeth. 

As soon as Petukhov sat down the game changed. Until 
now the players had joked, sniggered, exchanged idle com- 
ments, and not minded when they lost; although the stakes 
had risen you could still feel that they were playing for fun. 
With Petukhov's coming the stakes rose no higher. On the 
contrary they fell, but jokes ceased at once and suddenly 
everyone was grave, not looking straight at the crumpled 
notes but shooting them sidelong shamefaced glances. 

Bushuyev was still smiling complacently, but every now 
and then he bit his lower lip, and at such moments his 
lean, drawn face had something sharp and swooping in it 
like the look of a cat ready to spring at a sparrow. 

Petukhov, his shoulders hunched and strained, held the 
bank, but somehow he soon lost it. Bushuyev, raking in the 
pile of crumpled notes, threw him a glance. 

"Out you go. Your five rubles are gone." 

But the five rubles Petukhov had started with had gone 
unnoticeably, without pain. All they left him was the feel- 
ing of having missed his chance. . . . 

The game went on and the voices sounded in turn re- 
strained, expectant, alert, surprised. The game went on, the 
money rustled. Petukhov got off his bed, pulled his suitcase 
out, and undid the lock. 

212 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

Straightening his shoulders, a sort of sour disdain in his ex- 
pression, he came back. 

"Here, you bastard, here's the money. Now deal." 

Bushuyev gave a short laugh. 

"That's a big wad of money! Hoping that five-ruble note 
will rake you in a fortune?" 

"Just you go on grinning. I'll stake what I want. Let's have 
the cards." 

"Staking the lot?" 

"I'm staking one ruble." 

"Why bother to get change? — You'll lose it all any- 
way. . . ." 

"How much in the bank?" Petukhov asked tonelessly, the 
card in the palm of his hand damp with sweat. 

"Want it all?" 

"None of your business. How much is there, I asked you?" 

"I haven't counted." 

"Count it." 

"Leshka," Bushuyev nodded carelessly. "See what the 
bank's worth. I don't seem to remember." 

Leshka, frowning, kneeled and counted clumsily, taking 
the money from the pile note by note and putting it down. 

Everyone else was silent. Petukhov wiped his sweating 
face with his sleeve. 

"Seven hundred and forty-five rubles." 

Petukhov passed his sleeve again over his face and mum- 
bled through dry lips: 

"All of it." 

"No tricks, grandpa." A muscle quivered in Bushuyev's 
cheek. "You put down seven hundred and forty-five rubles 
right here in this corner where everyone can see, then I'll be- 
lieve you." 

"I'll put it down all right. What d'you mean?" Petukhov 
objected, his voice not quite certain. 

"Well, do it then. Don't hold up the game. Get out your 
trunk." For once Bushuyev's eyes were wide open. 


Petukhov knew he must get up. That was what Bushuyev 
expected; so did all those wary, silent men. 

"Well . . r 

He got up heavily. His legs were numb, hard to move, he 
had pins and needles in his feet. He crumpled the card in 
his sweaty hand. The card was all right. But no card was 
enough. Suppose he drew a six at once? Bushuyev had 
boasted he could see right through the cards. But what 
about the cards? Nobody had checked them. 

He crossed over to his bed, dragged out the suitcase, felt 
the heavy, well-made lock, the small steel shaft gripped by 
solid rings. He had riveted the rings himself. All desire to 
go on gambling had left him at the first touch of the padlock. 
But now the suitcase was open and his hand groped under 
the clothes to where several packages, all his earnings for 
the past three months, lay discreetly in a corner. He had been 
meaning for a long time to get out on a Sunday and hand 
it over to the bank in town, but here it still was — five thou- 
sand in hundred-ruble notes and about three hundred in 
small change. Now he must take one thousand out and 
count seven hundred and forty-five! And all for whom? For 
that jailbird! This was his own sweat and blood! He never 
gave a penny to his wife, he never ate in the canteen. And 
now, seven hundred and forty-five rubles for this tramp! 

"All right." He turned his head stiffly without looking up. 
"To hell with your bank. Ill stake fifty rubles." 

"That's more like it," Bushuyev drawled mockingly. "You 
had me worried for a moment." 

Petukhov thought he heard a note of relief in Bushuyev's 
voice. Was he worried about the bank? That pile of money 
at his side — he's come in for the whole thing. But me, I'm in 
for fifty rubles; a measly fifty rubles. The rest will be squan- 
dered on that crook's drink and a gay life — and it's a good 

The suitcase was open. His hands groped through the 
clothes for the bundle of notes. 

214 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

"Come on. Get going. What are you stuck over there for?" 
Bushuyev was pressing. 

"The whole thing 1" His voice blasted out: "There's the 
money, you bastard." 

Petukhov took out the wrapped-up savings, peeled off a 
thousand, and slammed the case shut. Then he spent a long 
time looking for the ace of hearts which had dropped be- 
hind it. 

And while he was looking his confidence ebbed away. 

The whole thing . . . 

Card in one hand ( a good card — come on, God, help me, 
help me!); in the other, a bundle of hundreds. Money he 
had sweated for, toiled for, skimped and saved — gone hun- 
gry for. 

"See, you louse? Believe me now?" 

"Sure." Bushuyev's answer was terse, serious. "Sit down." 

They were all hushed. From all sides wide-eyed stares 
were riveted on the center. They waited. But Petukhov was 
swamped in despair. How had it happened? Bushuyev 
would slaughter him. His thieving face was taut; it had 
shown some wrinkles before, now it was dead serious. 

Bushuyev had already flicked him a card. He took it. Pack 
it in? Too late. Once he had taken a card he couldn't pack 
it in — it wouldn't only be Bushuyev who would mind. 

The king of diamonds. 

Bushuyev's eyes narrowed on the sights. 


The whole circle could be heard breathing. 

"Let me take it," Petukhov asked hoarsely. 

His clumsy, fat rough fingers drew a card from the pack. 
Please, God, please! Petukhov could not see. Sweat ran 
from his brow, stung his eyes. 

"Well?" Bushuyev's whole body seemed to be in the word. 

The king and the ace, and — bust. 

Bushuyev laid his narrow, almost refined, hand on the 
kitty. Without a word he dragged it over to his own pile. 


"Keep the change" — he threw Petukhov a few notes. 

Petukhov obediently took them. 

Genka Shamayev, back from his usual jaunt across the 
river, for the first time found the hut awake. They were all 
seated on the floor under the light in a fog of tobacco smoke. 

Shamayev went to his own bunk, pulled back the blanket. 

"I see you're really at it. You'd get hell if Sasha found out." 

Nobody paid him any attention. Petukhov went on to 
lose the rest of his thousand. 

A sullen morning: clouds clawing the fir-tree tops along 
the water's edge; drizzle. As they came out of the warm 
stuffy hut, their belts buckled over their jackets and water- 
proof capes, the men shrank involuntarily. Sleep was still in 
their faces; there was no talking. As always in the morning, 
the noise of the water at the Big Head seemed louder and 
more insistent. 

Head bent, eyes downcast. Petukhov went with the others 
toward the boats. His face had become puffy overnight. His 
step was leaden, he dragged his gaff behind him. 

Bushuyev was standing by the boats where the men shuf- 
fled around waiting for the latecomers. An old waterproof 
cape borrowed from the lanky Khariton billowed out over 
his jacket. And though Bushuyev was to all intents just like 
the others, with his belt, his ax stuck in it, his hook in his 
hand, still he managed somehow to look as if he was not in 
earnest, did not mean business. 

Petukhov, head bent, edged toward him, poked at the 
ground with his boot, blurted out guiltily: 

"Listen pal, it wasn't ... it was kind of a joke last night 
. . . very funny ... I know I sort of asked . . . listen, 
give me my money back and let's forget it." 

Bushuyev's face twisted into a sneer, his eyes puckered. 

"You're kidding, grandpa. Rivers don't go backward." 

"Listen here, give it back, I said. Or else . . ." Petukhov 
closed in, threateningly. 

216 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

"Steady now. Clear off!" Bushuyev squared up. 

"Lousy bastard. I'll smash you!" Petukhov raised his gaff. 
Bushuyev leaped back, grabbed his ax. 

"Come on, hand it over. I'll split your thick skull open." 

Shamayev turned to them, stocky in his short coat and 
thigh-length rubber boots. A dry tuft of hair stuck out from 
under his forage cap. 

"Stop fooling around. I'm in on this." Striding over to 
Petukhov he grabbed the hook. "Serves you right, you fool 
— you'll keep your nose out of it next time. Get to the boat." 

Petukhov calmed down and did as he was told. 

Until now life in the camp had been quiet and monoto- 
nous; days had followed nights with no alarms, no excite- 
ments. Even the distractions were monotonous — listening to 
the radio and a game or two of dominoes. Such entertain- 
ment as this did not stave off sleep for long. And in the morn- 
ing — the boats, the logs, dinner, and so endlessly on. 

But this was really something — a solid ring of people on 
the floor, tense faces, excited shining eyes, clipped words, 
money, the shrinking piles of notes, money going from one 
pocket to another, the grip of near success, the disappoint- 
ment . . . and Petukhov blowing the whole load in his suit- 
case! Wasn't that really something? You had to admit it was 
a damn sight more entertaining than dominoes at bedtime. 

Evening fell and the whole hut gathered in a circle, some 
to play, others to watch, to get worked up on the sidelines. 
Only two didn't take part: Shamayev, and Petukhov who was 
lying, still dressed, face down on his bunk. 

The stakes rose immediately. Stifled exclamations reached 
his ears. He lay clenching his fists in hate. He couldn't touch 
Bushuyev now — all the others would stand up for him. The 
thousand was gone — he wouldn't get it back. 

But the voices tore into his very being. 


"Let's have another." 

"Hell — there goes the bank." 

Even the short tense silences gripped him. Somebody 


would have the luck, but he, wronged and forgotten, lay 
alone. It never entered anyone's head to feel sorry for 
him. But suppose he tried again? No risky stuff this time — 
play it clever, careful, cautious. He'd get his money back 
soon. He'd gone bust on big stakes — might manage with 
small ones. 

Petukhov slid from his bunk, carefully pulled out his suit- 
case, got the money, took out a hundred note. 

He roughly shouldered the others aside — claiming the 
right of one offended to the tolerance and sympathy of oth- 

"Move over!" 

He sat down, trying not to meet anyone's eyes, and took a 

At the end of the stone dam behind the settlement Du- 
binin was laying bait. He went to check his lines each eve- 
ning, and now he was returning with a bucket splashing 
with perch. 

He walked straight along the dam, striding on the great 
boulders. It was a stone barrier almost the height of two 
men, stretching a quarter of a kilometer from the canteen 
to where it slid diagonally into the tempestuous river. 

Two years ago Dubinin's section had been the toughest 
on the whole length of the river. The Big Head threw up the 
timber onto a stony shoal and there, several times each sum- 
mer, great blockages piled up. At peak flow you had to work 
twelve hours a day. By autumn the men were exhausted. 
After that they had decided to build themselves a dam to 
keep the logs off the shoals. . . . The dam was remarkable 
enough but it was just a side show. The men were as used 
to it as to the ceaseless noise of the Big Head. Dubinin was 
possessed by a vague sort of pride for his charges : "They're 
a good hard-working bunch, you've got to admit — they earn 
their grub, all right." 

At the end of the dam a cobbled slope ran up to the can- 
teen wall. Behind a corner of the canteen a lighted window 

218 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

showed from the hut. It was pretty late but they hadn't 
turned in. 

The feeling of pride and quiet confidence that everything 
was all right, that life was fine, all vanished. "They're at the 
cards again." 

Some deadbeat scum was lording it over a score of grown, 
healthy, thinking, self-respecting men. And for him, Dubinin 
the foreman, the most powerful man on the site, whose every 
word was listened to, it wasn't so easy just to say: "That's it, 
boys — stop the nonsense." 

So everything was fine, everything fixed — was it? Every- 
body satisfied, everything quiet — a sight too quiet. Sleep 
and work, work and sleep. 

Dubinin could make them haul boulders in biting frost — 
that was necessary. He could order the raftsmen — normally 
no abstainers — not to drink on the site. That was necessary. 
It was in that one word "necessary" that Dubinin's whole 
strength lay. But try taking away their cards — they'd be up 
in arms right away. 

"Who do you think we are — your slaves? How do you 
like that: 'Now, now, boys — no cards/ Does the work suffer? 
No. Well then, don't butt in." 

But it wouldn't end there. Wherever there were cards, 
drinking and trouble were not far away. "All right, let it go. 
When trouble comes. I'll be here; that's when I'll call a stop. 
Just let them try anything. . . ." 

Tobacco smoke hung in layers above the figures huddled 
on the floor. Many of them shot frightened glances at Bu- 
shuyev; it was not possible to win like that without cheating. 
He couldn't fool them, they'd fix him. The joking had 
stopped, the laughter had vanished, in the thick smoky air 
something evil was building up — everyone was waiting for it 
to break. 

Bushuyev squatted by the money, his vest hanging loose. 
Every so often he stuffed some of the money into his pockets, 
but the piles at his knees soon grew again. When Bushuyev 
got up and went for a drink all heads turned to follow him, 


ten pairs of eyes suspiciously followed his every move. Bu- 
shuyev leisurely filled an aluminum cup with water from the 
tank, drank thirstily, returned to his place, and squatted 
down again. 

Petukhov shuffled the pack with trembling hands, an 
unaccustomed desperation on his face, his eyes red. The 
suitcase had been pushed right into the gangway. It was 
open and the crumpled clothes showed white. Petukhov 
was losing his last ruble. 

"The whole thing/' Bushuyev called relentlessly as he had 
already so often that evening. 

The whole thing. Petukhov's head sank into his shoulders, 
his hands shook. He threw out a card. Bushuyev calmly 
took it, gave it a fleeting look, and stretched out his hand to- 
ward the pack. 

"Let me take one." 

Petukhov's hands trembled. So did the pack, so did his 
slack lips. 

Someone behind Bushuyev exclaimed in a hostile voice: 

"He's got it!" 

Petukhov abruptly flung the cards to the floor, lunged 
across the scattered money at Bushuyev, and shouted: 

"You're cheating. I'll strangle you, you bastard." 

Bushuyev sprang to his feet. Clumsily turning among the 
huddled bunch of dumbfounded figures, his face purple, his 
teeth bared like a wild animal, Petukhov roared: 

"I'll slaughter you, smash you to bits, you swine!" 

Now on his feet, heavy, clumsy, he swayed over Bushuyev, 
whose narrow shoulders were enveloped in his flapping 
shirt. He had him cornered, now he would squash him, 
crush him, cripple him. But Bushuyev ducked nimbly and 
dived at Petukhov. A short butt with his head brought Pe- 
tukhov heavily to the floor. 

It all happened quickly. Nobody had time to take it in. 
Nobody seized Petukhov, nobody restrained Bushuyev. 

Bushuyev leaped to his bunk, flung off the mattress, and 
an ax appeared in his hands. 

220 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

In the sudden silence the muffled roar of the waters at the 
Big Head pressed through the windows. 

Till then all they had felt toward Bushuyev was distaste. 
An intense one for sure, kindled by obscure suspicion, but 
the moment they saw the ax in his hand they understood 
that he was their enemy. He recognized it too; not for noth- 
ing had he concealed an ax in his bunk for a year. 

"Now," Bushuyev brandished the ax, "anyone who wants 
to . . . I ve got nothing to lose. . . ." 

His white shirt hung outside his trousers, his sharp collar- 
bones stood out under the open collar. His long neck was 
scraggy as a chicken's leg; his eyes were an empty pale light 
in his pallid black-bristled face. 

It was one against all the rest. All those men were stronger 
than he. There was a whole crowd of them, more than a 
score. And what if he did have an ax? There were axes in the 
corridor; it would be easy enough to dash through the door 
and pick them up. 

The noise of the rapids seeped through the tightly closed 
windows. Nobody moved. They stood, they shuffled, they 
looked at Bushuyev. Fists were out of the question. In the 
twinkling of an eye the ax would be up and there was no 
doubt that this man wouldn't think twice about bringing it 
down on the first head that came his way. No conscience, no 
law would restrain him. Even Petukhov, mad with hate and 
despair, hesitated to grab an ax and brain him. More than a 
score of hefty men stood bewildered before one weak, 
narrow-chested specimen. They stood in silence. The noise 
of the river went on. . . . 

For the past few days Leshka had gone around in a daze 
— the piles of money, the wins, the losses, people breathing 
hard down the back of his neck. He found it vaguely dis- 
turbing and frightening. He would have been glad enough 
to get out of it but he wasn't strong enough. And Sasha 
wouldn't think much of it either. He was getting out of his 
depth. His heart sank as he wondered how it would end. 


And now there was Petukhov's hoarse cry, the scuffle, and 
Bushuyev, ax in hand, lying on his bunk. 

Leshka shared the hatred which the others felt for this 
stranger. He had expected Stupnin and Petukhov, who 
were both strong men and never figured to be afraid of any- 
thing, to go for Bushuyev and pin him down. But no one 
did. They had all stood, as bewildered as himself. The sight 
of this man with his narrow glinting eyes was terrifying. 
They cowered before him. 

Leshka went apprehensively to his bunk, which was flush 
against the one where Bushuyev was sprawled smoking. He 
started hurriedly to undress. If only he could get his head 
down quickly, turn his back on Bushuyev, and forget him. 
Scarcely had his head touched the pillow, however, when he 
felt something hard bulging under his pillow. He thrust his 
hand inside, but Bushuyev's intent stare made him turn. 

"You," Bushuyev hissed, barely audibly, "go outside." 

Leshka stared open-mouthed, not understanding. 

"Go outside, I said. Like you were going for a piss. Wait 
for me there. Go on." 

Bushuyev casually turned back, letting the smoke drift to 
the ceiling. Leshka was still at a loss. 

"Get!" hissed Bushuyev through a cloud of smoke. 

Leshka didn't dare disobey. He got into his rubber boots 
and holding up his pants he made for the door. Nobody 
paid any attention. 

The moon behind the forest was almost full. From the 
dark river poured the muffled detached noise of rushing 
water. Leshka started his vigil in the shadow of the wall, 
shivering in his underwear from the night cold, trying to 
stop his teeth from chattering, and looking around every 
minute. He felt as if eyes were somewhere watching him 
suspiciously. He strained to listen for the sound of approach- 
ing footsteps in the noise of the water. 

He had a long time to wait. The bloated moon, slightly 
shaved on one side, lit the wide yard and the cistern in the 
center. A dim light shone from the office window. Sasha sat 

222 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

there. Suppose he dashed over to him, said Bushuyev was up 
to no good? He wouldn't let him get away with it. 

Leshka shuffled and shivered, and couldn't bring himself 
to move. 

There was a scraping on the porch step and Bushuyev ap- 
peared with his shirt outside his pants, gripping his ax. His 
free hand grabbed Leshka by the chest, dragging him for- 
ward and wrapping him in a stench of tobacco. He whis- 
pered hoarsely: 

"Under your pillow. There's ten grand. Take it home to 
your village on Saturday. Hide it till I come and see you. 
Maybe soon, maybe not — but I'll come for sure. You're from 
Yaremnaya, third house on the right. I know it all, see? 
Double-cross and you're dead. If you do it right you get 
two grand to play around with. Get it, sucker? It won't occur 
to them that you've got the money. Let 'em search me." 

Bushuyev spat through his teeth. 

"Get going." 

Leshka's teeth chattered. 

"Give the money back," he begged, "the boys are pretty 

"Don't you teach me, snot-nose." 

"Th-then go now — take the money and go." 

"Listen, you chattering runt, how do I go without my 
papers? Sasha's got them. Now get moving, or the others 
will start thinking. And remember, one squeak and I'll kill 
you. . . . 

Leshka lay on his bunk with his eyes tight shut, feeling 
infinitely small, helpless, and stupid before the ocean of life 
which surrounded the small island he knew — the tiny settle- 
ment squeezed by the forest against the river. It was his first 
disillusionment, his first dismay, his first fear — an over- 
grown child's first naive glimpse of reality. 

Petukhov could not settle down. He stumbled against the 
headboards going toward Bushuyev's bunk, angrily felt the 
jacket hanging above it, picked up the pillow, thumbed it, 
raised the mattress. 


"He's after the money." Leshka froze. "Now he'll tell me 
to get up." The money pressed against his forehead through 
the pillow. "What shall I do? Tell him? What about Bu- 
shuyev? What will they do to him? Throw him out, hit him, 
beat him up even — but he'll still be alive and well. And he 
even knows my village, knows the house. He'd dig me up 
from under the ground." 

He still lay with the money pressing against his forehead. 
The Petukhov who was tearing Bushuyev's bed apart was 
not the Petukhov he knew. He used to be an ordinary sort of 
man — a bit meaner than the rest. But now his face was fierce 
and determined, his eyes red. If Petukhov found out that he 
was lying on the money he might hurl himself on him and 
strangle him. He was a complete stranger, mystifying. And 
yet they had lived side by side for over a year. 

Leshka held his breath under the blanket and watched 
as Petukhov finished tearing at the bunk, cursed, and went 

Dubinin cleaned the fish, wrapped it up in nettles, and 
stood the bucket outside the door, where it was cool; then, 
without taking off his coat, he sat down in his office and 
began thinking to the ceaseless grunting of the tele- 
phone. . . . 

The first time he had met Bushuyev he had told him 
that it was hard to leave the district. But was it? Instead 
of walking or going by rowboat he could take the outboard. 
It was always near the bank and Tikhonov never took the 
motor out. If he started in the evening, he could leave all 
the sites behind by morning. At the end there would be the 
sorting base — hundreds of workers, easy to get lost among 
them — and then the railroad and the highway. He'd be able 
to laugh about it afterward; he'd have twisted the fools 
around his finger. 

Silent and mysterious, the wooded slope rose above the 
river, separating the small settlement from the rest of the 
world. The river was black, except in midstream where the 

224 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

moonlight boiled and rushed together with the current 
which it could not leave. 

Dubinin took the motor out of the boat, put it on the 
bank, and stood for a long time among the boulders, looking 
at the moonlight feverishly trembling on the stream, listen- 
ing to the roaring rapids and the patter of spray on the deck. 

What could he do? Reason with him? Find the right 
words? How? He was not good at talking. Just fling him 
out? Get rid of him, push him onto others, let them work it 
out among themselves — that would be too much like Bu- 

Dubinin shouldered the heavy motor and watching his 
short shadow crawl over the stones, he climbed the slope 
toward the dim light of his office window. 

Some ten yards before he got to it he saw a shadow flit 
across the window. What could it be? At this time of night? 

Bent slightly under the weight of the motor, he ap- 
proached cautiously. 

Humped over the desk, Bushuyev was going through the 
drawers. His ax lay on top of the desk. 

What was he doing? What did he want? Suddenly he 
realized — the identity card. 

It wasn't in the desk. It was in the rucksack hanging on 
the wall next to the telephone, just behind Bushuyev's back. 
He didn't notice it. 

Dubinin must have made a careless step, Bushuyev 
glanced sharply at the window; his face was screwed up, 
frozen, his eyes darted like those of a hunted beast. 

They met on the dark porch. 

"Sasha. It's you? I was coming to see you." No fear, no 

Dubinin grabbed his arm and pulled him out. 

"Come on." 


Dubinin did not answer. 


The broad yard looked even more deserted by moonlight. 
Halfway to the bunkhouse, the old iron cistern loomed black. 
Light in the hut windows though it was long past mid- 
night, and Bushuyev in his office for some reason with the ax 
under his arm — all this suggested to Sasha that something 
had happened, that it was time to act. 

Bushuyev stopped before he reached the cistern. 

"Where are you taking me?" 

"Come on. Don't talk/' 

"Wait a minute. Do you want me to give back the money? 
Well, why don't you say so?" His voice was conciliatory. 

"You'll give it back. But first we'll have a talk with the 

"It will be easier to talk once the money is on the table. 
They'll be more inclined." 

"You'll put the money on the table all right." 

"But I've hidden it." Still held by the arm, Bushuyev 
looked back. 


"Oh well, I give up. Come on, I'll show you." 

"Lead the way." 

Bushuyev led him in the direction of the river, away from 
the canteen and the bunkhouse, toward the dam. 

"Remember, Sasha," he went on in the same conciliatory 
voice, "You asked me if I wanted to go home. I haven't been 
home for seventeen years, not since the beginning of the 
War. Well, the idea took hold: why not go back, take a wife 
With a house of her own? Any girl will take you if you have 
money. Why not live like everybody else? I'm sick of knock- 
ing around, I'm sick of drifting." 

"You should have done some honest work and then gone 
home. We'd have given you a sendoff." 

"And another thing, Sasha my friend, I'm sick of your 
forests. Living here isn't freedom. Damp, clouds, rapids — to 
hell with it. At home there are fields all around, big spaces, 
it's warm. I didn't want to fleece your boys, the fools asked 

226 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

for it. Nobody could resist it. I'm sick of looking at these 
banks and at the dimwits who live in this hole. . . ." 

"All right, wise guy, that's enough talk. Where did you 
hide the money?" 

"Wait a minute. We're in a hurry today, aren't we? I'm in 
no hurry. 

"Don't rush me." Bushuyev tore his arm out of Dubinin's 
grasp and faced him, white shirt hanging outside his pants. 
With his rubber boots on, the lower part of him was big and 
clumsy, his shoulders narrow, his neck strung out. 

Behind him the stones and stakes of the dam slid into the 
transparent moonlit shadow. The noise of the Big Head was 
close, you could feel its damp breath. 

Bushuyev got a better grip on his ax. 

"You wanted to talk with a lot of people around, but I'd 
rather do it like this. It's cozier. This is fine, nobody around." 
Bushuyev looked at the foreman mockingly. 

"Where's the money, you son of a bitch?" Dubinin made 
a step toward him. 

"Get back, you. Your boys won't see any money." 

"Don't think you can frighten me with your ax." 

"Now, now, mister foreman, don't get het up. Let's have 
a talk. You tell me where my card is and let me go without 
any noise, I'll be kind too; I won't touch you." 

"Drop your ax!" Dubinin clenched his fists. 

But Bushuyev raised the ax and hissed: 

"Bare fists, eh? Want to die? I'll bash you in and throw 
you in the river. There's plenty of room. Give me back my 
card, you louse. It's not with your papers, you must have it 
on you. Give it back, you swine!" Dubinin leaped back, bent 
down, and tried to pick up a stone. 

"So that's it, is it!" Bushuyev came on him. "Defend your- 
self with a feather, will you? I'm not frightened. Just you try 
something, you'll see!" 

Dubinin had completely forgotten the sheath knife in 
his belt. He pulled it out. But a knife is no more help than 
fists against a man with an ax. With the knife in his hand, 


Dubinin backed toward the river, anxious lest he stumble on 
the rocks and fall down. 

His foot slipped on the slimy pebbles. The river was at his 
back; there was nowhere to retreat. 

"You've had it now! Give me the card or else . . ." 

Dubinin threw himself forward. He just had time to 
swerve and cover his head with his hands. The ax blade must 
have been blunt; it caught his sleeve and slit it from wrist to 
elbow. Dubinin's hand fell useless to his side. 

Bushuyev's face, contorted into a wild-eyed grin, was 
close upon him. Once again the ax swung up. Dubinin threw 
himself underneath it. If he could get in close enough the 
ax would not be dangerous. He tried to clasp Bushuyev's 
body to him but his shattered arm would not obey. Bus- 
huyev twisted sideways, still holding the ax above Dubinin's 

Without another thought, frightened only of the raised ax 
coming down, Dubinin struck Bushuyev with his knife. He 
struck him in the chest again and again. 

The ax fell with a dull ring on the stones. Bushuyev stiff- 
ened, stretched out his neck, and fell soundlessly back. 

Apart from the roar of the rapids there was not a sound. 
The crushing boulders reared above. Bushuyev lay, his legs 
stretched out, his white shirt flapping around him, the blunt 
toes of his rubber boots sticking up. The water rumbled on. 

Dubinin looked at his knife. Dark stains showed on the 
blade which shone in the moonlight. He threw it down. He 
stumbled toward Bushuyev, bent over him, and suddenly 
jerked back. Bushuyev's eyes were open, his neck throbbed, 
a black stream of blood flowed from his mouth, his breath 
came in jerks. Dubinin bent down again and tried to raise 
his head but his fingers felt something sticky on the back of 
the head. Bushuyev's fall had only seemed soft and noiseless. 
In fact his skull had been broken against the stones. A dark, 
oily stain was spreading on his shirt. Dubinin straightened 
himself up. 

He went back home. The tops of his rubber boots scraped 

228 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

against each other. Still the sound of water, the sand 
squelching under his feet, the rubber boots scraping at each 
step, the moon looking down . . . 

Back in his office Dubinin picked up the telephone. The 
line that only a little time ago had seethed with conversa- 
tions was now frighteningly still. His left hand was help- 
less. He had to tuck the receiver under his chin in order to 
turn the handle with his right hand. 

A man called Osipov, whom he did not know, was on 
duty at the regional militia post. 

"Dubinin of the Fifth River District speaking . . . D-U- 
B-I-N-I-N. I've just killed a man . . . Yes, me . . . There's 
nothing to tell, you'll see for yourselves . . . Send the boat 
for you tomorrow morning? All right. . . . 

He hung up, sat down on his chair, and gingerly put his 
wounded arm on his lap. 

Around eleven the next day, Tikhon, the mechanic, 
fetched three persons by boat: the Prosecutor, a woman 
doctor, and the district militia officer. 

All the inhabitants of the small settlement stood waiting 
for them in a silent crowd; they followed them to the dam 
where Bushuyev's body still lay on the stones beside the 

The doctor, middle-aged and with a faded, homely face, 
cut Bushuyev's shirt from hem to collar, examined his 
wounds, carefully feeling his chest with her fingertips, lifted 
his head and looked at the broken skull. The Prosecutor 
picked up the knife and frowned at it, and asked the militia 
man to take charge of the ax. 

Back in the office, the doctor undid her coat, pushed her 
shawl back from her hair onto her shoulders, sat down at 
Dubinin's desk, and busied herself with her forms. Peace 
radiated from her industrious figure, filling the room which 
was half office, half bachelor dwelling. Looking at her, Du- 
binin felt as though what had happened was not so fright- 
ening after all. 


The Prosecutor was young. His large gristly ears propped 
up his cap and underneath it his face was round and full- 
cheeked with a heart-shaped mouth. His manner with Du- 
binin was coldly polite. 

"You knew about the winnings of the deceased?" 


"And had you no idea where the deceased kept the 

"If I had I wouldn't have gone with him to look for it." 

As Dubinin answered he guessed what was in the Prose- 
cutor's mind and was appalled: he suspected him of having 
killed Bushuyev for his money. He all but lost his temper 
and shouted: "Who do you think you are, you snot-nosed 
runt?" Then he realized that when he was the Prosecutor's 
age he had had no more intelligence or charity. The Prose- 
cutor had been sent to fetch a criminal. And since Dubinin 
was the criminal, the Prosecutor, even as he got into the 
boat, had made up his mind. No shouting, no argument 
would dissuade him; there was nothing to do but to en- 

Dubinin answered briefly and obediently. 

"We'll question the others and we'll look for the money," 
declared the Prosecutor. "If we don't find it, I'm sorry to 
say that I'll be obliged to arrest you. Please sit on the porch 
and don't go away without my permission." 

Dubinin went out. 

Bushuyev was brought to the door of the office. He lay 
beside the porch, his chin pointing at the sky, his blood- 
stained shirt cut open exposing his flat chest with its in- 
scription: "The years go by but bring no luck." 

The conversation with Bushuyev, the money, then, in the 
early morning, shouting and murder — all this had com- 
pletely dazed Leshka. He felt like sobbing, like tearing his 
hair, like crying for his mother. He could understand noth- 
ing. Everything was dark. 

All night the money lay under his pillow. That terrible 

230 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

money! He longed to shout: "Here it is, take the damn stuff 
away from me!" 

But what would they do? . . . Petukhov would go after 
him: "There I was looking for it, and you lay nearby and 
said nothing!" And what a strange and changed face Pe- 
tukhov had. . . . And not only Petukhov — they would all 
go after him, they would say he had conspired with the 
thief, that he had sold out his friends for money. 

And Sasha? A murderer! He did not dare say the word 
aloud, he hardly dared think it — it made his blood run cold. 
What was it like for him? And it was all his fault. He had 
pulled Bushuyev from the rapids (if only he had known!) 
he hadn't had the nerve last night to run to Sasha and tell 
him all about it. . . . Now there was the money ... If 
Sasha got to know of it . . . 

Sasha would turn his back on him, they would all turn 
their backs on him, they would drive him out of the district, 
the village would hear that he was a thief. Bushuyev's 
threats were nothing to that. It was all frightening, and con- 
fusing. What was he to do? 

Straightening out his bunk, Leshka got the money from 
under the pillow. No one noticed. The money was tied up in 
a dirty handkerchief. Leshka started to stuff it into his 
pockets, but the pockets bulged and he felt still more fright- 
ened — anyone could see it now. Leshka went to the wooden 
outhouse and undid the bundle. He divided the money into 
two bundles and stuffed them into his rubber boots. 

Together with the others he met the Prosecutor, to- 
gether with the others he went to the scene of the murder; 
he stood beside the office porch and not for a single moment 
did he stop wondering what he was to do. Should he hide the 
money among the stones and later on pretend that he had 
found it? Or still better, ftx it so that someone else would 
find it, say Petukhov? But the very thought that he would 
have to hide it like a thief made him shake with fever. He 
felt like throwing it into the river and forgetting all about it. 
The men gathered in the hut, and for the first time the 


words were spoken: "They suspect Sasha." Leshka felt faint. 
He sat hiding his face, trying not to look at the boots where 
the money was hidden. Somehow he had never thought that 
Sasha could be accused. He was blaming himself enough as 
it was, and now there was this idea that Sasha had com- 
mitted murder for the money. What was all this? He must 
tell everything, he must produce the money, he must save 
Sasha. . . . 

The militia man came in. He asked the men not to dis- 
perse; The first man he summoned to the office to be ques- 
tioned by the Prosecutor was Shamayev. 

"The courts are just, they are sure to understand. I'll ask 
them not to tell. The money has been found, that's all there 
is to it. No one is to blame except Bushuyev. Why should 
anybody care where it was found?" 

He was summoned immediately after Petukhov and this 
alarmed him. Petukhov did not trust him; he could have said 
anything to the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor would get sus- 
picious, and when he saw the money . . . Just try and get 
out of that one! 

"I'll tell anyway, I don't care" Leshka told himself, step- 
ping carefully, his boots stuffed with thousand-ruble notes. 

Near the porch lay the body of Bushuyev in its blood- 
stained shirt. Dubinin sat on the doorstep and next to him, 
leaning against the doorpost, was the militia man. 

Dubinin sat erect, looking sideways at the clamoring wa- 
ters of the Big Head and holding his wounded arm. To 
Leshka at this moment he appeared small and lonely. Sasha 
was no longer the foreman, he was as helpless as himself. 

It was the stranger who was now the master of the district, 
the man with the shiny peak to his cap, with bright buttons 
on his chest and, underneath the cap, eyes which looked 
calm and cold. 

His first words to Leshka were frightening: that he must 
speak nothing but the truth; if not he, would be held respon- 
sible under the criminal code. There was something about 
statutes. What code? What statutes? Leshka did not know 

232 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

but he imagined something terrible. All he wanted was to 
be understood, to be pitied, and to be forgiven. 

The eyes looked steadily from under the shining peak. 
He'd never believe it. He would say that he was in with 
Bushuyev. And what about Sasha? Suppose even he didn't 
believe? How could Leshka prove he was telling the truth? 
Bushuyev was the only one who had known the truth. For 
the first time he was sorry that Bushuyev was dead, that he 
was gone and even the man with the shining peak couldn't 
make him talk, couldn't make him tell the truth. 

The Prosecutor wouldn't believe . . . Sasha wouldn't be- 
lieve . . . The boys wouldn't believe . . . When he was 
asked if he knew where Bushuyev could have hidden the 
money, he answered: 

"I don't know." 

Once again he walked past Dubinin, past the militia offi- 
cer, and past Bushuyev's chin pointing at the sky. He passed 
them with his head bowed. He stepped as cautiously as be- 
fore, conscious at every moment of the money which lay 
inside his boots, and turned not toward the dining room but 
to the river. He walked on, afraid to look back, expecting 
someone to shout! "Hey you! Where are you off to?" But no 
one called. 

One after the other Dubinin's friends walked past — those 
he had lived with, those he had lived for. They threw him a 
pitying, puzzled glance and hastily looked away. One after 
the other — into the office and out. 

At his back stood the silent militia officer; on the ground 
the man he had killed with his own hands. 

He wasn't guilty. He couldn't have done anything else. And 
when he turned and looked at the logs diving over the Big 
Head, at the rearing wooded bank, at the low, peaceful 
clouds, he believed that he wasn't guilty. But he forced 
himself to look down at the waxen chest, the sagging head, 
the bloodstained, tattered shirt, the stiffened yellow hand 
on the trodden grass. 

Yes, he had done it in self-defense, he had done nothing 


but use his knife against a man armed with an ax, and if he 
hadn't killed him, he would be lying by the porch himself. 
But all the same there was the head, the rusty bloodstains 
on the shirt, the clenched hand — there was no forgiveness 
for inflicting death. . . . Tikhon, the mechanic, who usually 
cursed his fate before every journey, now only fussed and 
sighed: "Oh Lord, Lord." 

The engine wouldn't start. 

"Oh, Lord, Lord." 

Finally the engine spluttered. The Prosecutor, the doctor, 
and the militia man climbed into the boat. 

The men stood on the shore in a silent crowd. Dubinin 
nodded to them: 

"Don't worry, boys. It'll work out." 

"Sasha," Shamayev stepped forward, "I want to tell you 
. . . Hold it, Tikhon, don't push off ... If we have to turn 
the earth upside down, well prove that you're innocent." 

"It'll be all right." 

Leaving a puff of a bluish smoke drifting above the water, 
the boat turned into mid-stream and began to dance on the 
Big Head, now crouching in a trough, now pointing up its 
bow; it passed the Small Head and vanished. No one said a 

Silently, looking down at their feet, they went to the hut; 
silently they dispersed to their bunks. 

Only Petukhov was missing. He roamed the riverbank, in 
the dusk, turning up the stones, peering under the bushes, 
still hoping to find the money. 

Shamayev was the first to speak. 

"So we gambled away a man. And what a man. Old Sasha!" 

"All right, don't rub it in. We feel bad enough already." 

"Come on, boys, better think about how we can get him 
out of this mess." 

"The lousy part of it is the money. If we could find that, 
he'd be cleared right away." 

"Suppose we raise the money and say we found it." 

"We could. It wasn't marked." 

234 ] Vladimir Tendryakov 

"That's not very smart. They'd be sure to catch on. We'd 
only make things worse." 

"You're all being too clever. The money didn't fly away 
with Bushuyev's soul. It's here somewhere. We'll turn every 
stone in the district, every log and every splinter in the hut 
— we're sure to find it." 

There was a sound of subdued sobbing. They all raised 
their heads. It was Leshka, sobbing into his pillow. 

The Big Head roared outside. Leshka sobbed openly, 
without embarrassment. The rest were silent; they looked at 
each other. Only Stupnin said, uncomfortably: 

"Well, that's a business." 


I he publication, in the winter of 1960, of the first installment 
of Ehrenburgs memoirs in Novy Mir was the political and 
literary sensation of Moscow. Ehrenburgs tortuous intellectual 
career has earned him the reputation of an arch-double-dealer, 
denouncer, and cynical opportunist. Now he is concerned with 
showing that this is perhaps an oversimplification. Throughout 
his memoirs he reasserts in emphatic form the patently "re- 
visionist" ideas on literature and art for which he has fought 
since Stalin's death. 

This excerpt has been taken from a section of the memoirs in 
which Ehrenburg reminisces about various artistic figures in the 
twenties. In some ways it is the most extraordinary document to 
appear in the Soviet press since Stalin's death. It throws open the 
whole question of the true nature of Mayakovsky who, after 
Stalin's canonization of him in 1935, was obligatorily regarded 
in the works of critics and in textbooks as a "reinforced-concrete" 
proletarian poet. Ehrenburg shows — as is obvious from Maya- 
kovsky s lyrical work — that far from being made of concrete, he 
was a vulnerable, sensitive, neurotic, and in many ways helpless 
person for whom the Revolution proved only a tragically short- 
lived solution to his inner anguish. 

For young Soviet intellectuals who have been reared on the 
myth of Mayakovsky, as on many other myths about the avant- 
garde of the twenties, this comes as a revelation. Until now the 
only real Mayakovsky was to be seen in the heroic bronze statue 
on Mayakovsky Square, from which Ehrenburg, as he tells us, 
always averts his gaze. 

Ehrenburg has also given the young Soviet intellectuals a 
completely new idea of those avant-garde painters, like Malevich 
and Tatlin, who were associated with Mayakovsky, and who 
have long been forbidden in the Soviet Union. For Stalin's 
inscrutable political reasons, these painters were not permitted 
to enter into Soviet mythology, but became "un-persons," cast 
out of Russian cultural history in the thirties, in order to make 
way for the socialist realist painters of the type of Gerasimov. 
Now young people are being told that these painters were an 
essential "link" in Russian artistic tradition. Ehrenburgs re- 
habilitation of them is admittedly cautious; he seeks to show that 

236 ] Ilya Ehrenhurg 

even at the time he had doubts about their extreme modernism. 
He therefore dwells on their avid political support of the 
Revolution — support much in contrast with the academic artists 
of the time, many of whom emigrated, but who, by a supreme 
irony, were to be restored to favor by Stalin. 

One interesting aspect of Ehrenburgs rehabilitation of early 
Soviet art may escape the Western reader. There is an increasing 
realization, even in the most conservative Soviet official circles, 
that a great modern state which wishes to compete with its rivals 
for world power cannot impress its image on those it seeks to 
influence without to some extent adopting those achievements 
of modern art which are taken for granted in the West. The de- 
sign of a Soviet book cover, of a woman's scarf, or even of a 
humble matchbox may mean much in terms of the Soviet image 
abroad. As Ehrenhurg suggests in his memoirs, the adoption of 
the principles of modern design depends upon some recognition 
of the avant-garde of the twenties. Parts 1 and 2 of the Ehren- 
hurg memoirs are being published in the United States by Alfred 
A. Knopf in 19 . Translation by John Richardson. 


People , Years , and Life 

I do not remember who introduced me to Mayakovsky. The 
first time we met we sat in some cafe or other and talked 
about the cinema, then he took me home — a small room at 
the San Remo rooming house in Saltykov street, near the Pet- 
rovka. Not long before I had read his "As Simple as Mooing." 
I had imagined him exactly as he was — a big man with a 
heavy jaw and eyes which were alternately sad and hard. 
Loud-mouthed, gauche, and always spoiling for a fight, he 
was a cross between an athlete and a dreamer, a medieval 


mountebank who prays on his head, and an implacable icon- 

On our way to his room, he mumbled the epitaph written 
by Francois Villon while awaiting the gallows: "I'm Fran- 
cois, though not glad of it, / A doomed rogue this confesses, 
/ Whose neck will surely know quite soon, / The weight his 
ass possesses." 1 

No sooner had we arrived than he said: "I will now read 
you . . ."I sat on a chair while he stood. He read me his long 
poem "Man," which he had finished not long before. The 
room was small and there was no one else but me, but he 
read as though declaiming to a crowd in Theater Square. I 
looked at the awful wallpaper and smiled. Boot-tops were 
indeed becoming harps. 

Mayakovsky amazed me. He somehow combined poetry 
with revolution, and turbulent streets of Moscow with that 
modern art which the habitues of the Rotonde dreamed of. I 
even felt that he could help me find the right path. It turned 
out differently: Mayakovsky was for me a tremendous event 
in poetry and in the life of our century, but he had absolutely 
no direct effect upon me, remaining close and yet infinitely 
distant at the same time. 

This may be the mark of genius, or it may have been sim- 
ply Mayakovsky 's character. He used to say that poets ought 
to be "different," and was himself the sponsor of LEF, New 
LEF, and REF; 2 he wanted to enlist the support of many peo- 
ple and bring them together, but the only people around him 
were his followers, and sometimes his epigones. He told me 
how he used to talk to the sun at his country house near Mos- 

1 This Russian jingle is a deformation of Villon's: "J e sins Francois, dont 
ce me poise, / Ne de Paris empres Pontoise, / Et d'une corde dune toise, 
/ Scaura mon col que mon cul poise." 

2 Mayakovsky 's "ultra-revolutionary" literary organizations which fought 
for the introduction of Mayakovsky's style, derived from futurism, as the one 
style adequate for the epoch of technology. New LEF (Left Front) and 
REF ( Revolutionary Front ) made some concessions to increasing conformism 
demanded by RAPP. In 1929, Mayakovsky left REF and announced his ad- 
herence to RAPP. 

238 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

cow, 3 but he was himself a sun, around which his satellites 

I met him in Moscow in 1918 and 1920, in Berlin in 1922, 
in Paris, and again in Moscow, and then again in Paris ( the 
last time we saw each other was in the spring of 1929, a year 
before his death). Sometimes our encounters were fleeting, 
and sometimes long and significant. I would like to say some- 
thing of what I think of Mayakovsky; I know that this will be 
one-sided and subjective, but can the testimony of a contem- 
porary be otherwise? It is easy to recreate an image of a man 
from a great number of different and sometimes contra- 
dictory accounts. The trouble is that Mayakovsky, though a 
passionate destroyer of various myths, himself became a 
mythical hero with extraordinary rapidity. It is as though he 
were fated to become something different from what he was. 
There are eye-witnesses who have recorded some of his sav- 
age jokes. There are the school textbooks. And last but not 
least there is his statue. There is the teenager who learns bits 
from "Good!" by rote and there is the housewife in the street- 
car who asks anxiously: "Are you getting off at Mayakovsky?" 
How difficult it is to speak about people. . . . 

Until the mid-thirties, Mayakovsky was the subject of 
passionate argument. Whenever his name was mentioned at 
the First Congress of Soviet Writers, 4 some applauded wildly 
while others were silent. At the time I wrote in Izvestia: "We 
did not applaud because somebody 5 wanted to canonize 
Mayakovsky — we applauded because for us Mayakovsky 's 
name stood for the rejection of all literary canons." I could 
never have imagined that a year later Mayakovsky would 
actually be canonized. I did not go to his funeral. Friends 
tell me that the coffin was too short. It seems to me that in 
fact it was Mayakovsky 's posthumous glory which was not 
only too short, but more important, too constricting. 

3 The subject of a famous Mayakovsky poem, "An Extraordinary Adventure." 

5 That "somebody" was to be Stalin, who proclaimed in 1935 that "Maya- 
kovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch. 
Indifference to his memory and to his work is a crime." 


I want first of all to talk about the man. He was by no 
means a "monolith"; he was huge and complicated, with tre- 
mendous willpower, and a bundle of sometimes contradictory 

Anna Segers 6 called her novel The Dead Are Always 
Young. First impressions are almost always eclipsed by later 
ones. In this book I have tried to talk about the young Alexei 
Tolstoy, who was one of the first writers I ever met. But 
often when thinking of him I see a corpulent man, with his 
fame, with his loud laughter and tired eyes — just as he was 
in the last years of his life. Then I look at a photograph — 
standing next to Mayakovsky is Alexander Fadeyev, young 
and dreamy, with tender eyes. I find it very difficult to re- 
member Fadeyev in this way. Now I see those cold eyes, full 
of self 7 will. . . . But Mayakovsky remains young in my 

To the end of his life he retained certain traits, or rather 
certain habits from his early youth. The critics do not like to 
dwell too long on Mayakovsky 's so-called "futurist" period, 
although his later epic verse cannot be understood outside 
the context of his early poems. But I am not now talking 
about poetry, but about the man. Mayakovsky, of course, 
soon gave up not only the yellow smock 8 but also the slogans 
of the early futurist manifestoes. But he retained the spirit 
which motivated the "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste" in 
the way he behaved, in his jokes and in his replies to ques- 
tions at his public readings of his verse. 

I remember the Poets' Cafe in the winter of 1917-1918. It 
was on Nastasinsky Street. It was a very strange place. The 
walls were covered with weird paintings and just as weird in- 
scriptions. "I like to watch children dying" was a line from 
an early, pre-Revolutionary poem by Mayakovsky which 

6 A leading and notoriously conformist East German writer. 

7 Fadeyev, who committed suicide in 1956, was Secretary of the Union of 
Soviet Writers during the worst postwar years before Stalin's death, and as 
such was responsible for the most savage of the literary purges following 
Zhdanov's denunciations in 1946. 

8 His costume as a futurist. 

240 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

graced the wall to startle newcomers. The Poets' Cafe was 
not a bit like the Rotonde; here no one talked about art, 
argued, or beat his breast; there were only actors and spec- 
tators. The visitors to the cafe were, as they said in those 
days, "unslaughtered bourgeois," black marketeers, writers, 
"respectable citizens" out for a good time. Mayakovsky was 
hardly their idea of a good time. Although they couldn't make 
out much of his poems, they sensed there was a close con- 
nection between his strange words and the sailors 9 walking 
along Tverskaya Boulevard. But they all understood Maya- 
kovsky's jingle about the bourgeois who gorges himself on 
pineapple just before the end. 10 There were no pineapples 
on Nastasinsky Street, and even humble pork stuck in their 
throats. What amused the visitors was something else. For in- 
stance, David Burlyuk, 11 smothered in powder and with 
lorgnette in hand, would go up onto the stage and read his 
verse "I like pregnant men . . ." Goltschmidt also cre- 
ated a stir in the audience; on the posters he was billed as 
the "real-life futurist" but he wrote no verse. Instead he 
gilded two curls on his head with a special powder, had 
extraordinary strength, broke wooden beams in two with his 
bare hands, and bounced trouble-makers out of the cafe. 
Once the "real-life futurist" decided to erect a monument to 
himself on Theater Square; it was of plaster, not very big and 
by no means futuristic — it was a statue of Goltschmidt in the 
nude. The passers-by were indignant, but did not dare tamper 
with the mysterious monument. But later it was smashed to 
pieces anyway. 

These are all things of the past. Two years ago two Amer- 
ican tourists — David Burlyuk and his wife — came to Mos- 
cow. In America, Burlyuk draws, makes a fairly good living, 
and has gone respectable; the lorgnette and the "pregnant 

9 The most revolutionary element at this period, and the terror of the bour- 

10 "Eat pineapple, eat grouse, the end has come, you bourgeois louse!" 

11 The futurist painter who "discovered" Mayakovsky. He later emigrated 
and now lives on Long Island. 


men" are no more. To me futurism now seems far more an- 
cient than ancient Greece. But for Mayakovsky, who died 
young, it was, if not a living thing, still close to his heart. 

I went to the Poets' Cafe rather often and once I even per- 
formed and was paid by Goltschmidt. 

I remember an evening when Anatole Lunacharsky 12 came 
to the cafe. He sat down modestly at a rear table and lis- 
tened. Mayakovsky asked him if he would like to speak. He 
refused. Mayakovsky insisted: "Repeat what you told me 
about my poetry." Lunacharsky had to speak. He talked about 
Mayakovsky 's talent, but criticized futurism and spoke in 
passing of the futility of self-advertisement. Then Mayakov- 
sky said they would soon put up a monument to him at the 
very spot where the Poets' Cafe then stood. He was only a 
few hundred meters off — the monument was erected not far 
from Nastasinsky Street. 

Was this conceit or arrogance? The question has often been 
put by Mayakovsky 's contemporaries. Take, for example, the 
way he celebrated the twelfth anniversary of his career as a 
poet. He often called himself the greatest of poets. He de- 
manded recognition during his lifetime — this was very much 
in the spirit of the times, and part of that debunking of 
"idols" complained of by Balmont 13 which was aimed at 
drawing attention to art at all costs. 

"I like to watch children dying . . ." Mayakovsky could 
not even stand the sight of a horse being maltreated. A friend 
of mine in the cafe once cut his finger on a knife and Maya- 
kovsky hurriedly turned away. Arrogant? Yes, of course, he 
was quick to answer his critics and to insult his literary 
enemies. I remember the following exchange: Member of the 
audience: "Your poetry is not fiery, stirring, or catching." 
Answer: "I am neither a stove, a spoon, nor a disease." 
Autographing books he always inscribed "For internal use 
only." All this is well known. Other things are less well 

12 Then Minister of Education. 

13 The Decadent poet Konstantin Balmont. 

242 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

I remember Mayakovsky reciting one evening in the Cafe 
Voltaire in Paris. Lydia Seifullina 14 was there. It was the 
spring of 1927. Someone called out "Read us some of your 
old poems!" Mayakovsky, as usual, got out of it with a joke. 
When the evening was over, I went to an all-night cafe near 
the Boulevard Saint Michel with Mayakovsky, Seifullina, 
Elsa Triolet 15 and others. There was music and someone 
danced. Mayakovsky joked, mimicked the poet Gregory 
Ivanov 16 who had been at his reading, and then fell silent for 
a long time, looking around gloomily like a lion in a cage. We 
agreed that I would go see him the next morning, as early as 
possible. In his tiny room at the Hotel Istria, where he al- 
ways stayed, the bed had not been slept in. He was in a bad 
mood and immediately, without greeting me, asked: "Do 
you think my early verse was better?" 17 He had no self- 
confidence: it was his studied pose that misled people. 

I think that the pose was more a matter of calculation than 
of temperament. He was given to romanticism, but he was 
ashamed of it and held himself in check. "Who has not been 
a philosopher at the sight of the sea?" (he once said, ponder- 
ing in a bitter mood about his life), and then immediately he 
added ironically, "it's just water." In his article "How to 
Make Verse" everything seems logical and simple. In actual 
fact Mayakovsky knew well the stresses and strains which 
creative effort inevitably involved. Here he talks in detail 
about how he "stored up" rhymes for future use, but he 
"stored up" other things — inner agonies — which he did not 
like to talk about. Just before his death he wrote in a poem 
that "love's boat has smashed against the daily grind." This 
phrase was a concession to the romanticism which he had so 
often ridiculed; in actual fact his life was smashed against 

14 A naturalistic Soviet novelist. 

15 Russian-born French communist writer who is the wife of Louis Aragon 
and the sister of Lily Brik, Mayakovsky 's mistress in Russia. 

16 Emigre Acmeist poet. 

17 Mayakovsky's early verse was almost entirely concerned with his personal 
torments. After the Revolution his work became increasingly political in 


poetry. Addressing posterity, he said things he did not 
want to say to his contemporaries: "But I subdued myself, 
setting my heel on the throat of my own song." 

On the surface he was all strength, health, and joie de 
vivre. But at times he was intolerably depressed; he was a 
terrible hypochondriac and always carried a cake of soap in 
his pocket, and whenever he shook hands with someone 
who was physically repulsive to him, he immediately went 
away and carefully washed his hands. In Paris cafes he 
drank hot coffee through the straws supplied for cold drinks, 
so as not to touch the cup with his lips. He made fun of su- 
perstition, but he was always consulting signs and omens. 
He loved gambling, flipping coins, and double or quits. In 
Paris cafes there were automatic roulette wheels; you could 
put five sous on red, green, or yellow; if you won, you re- 
ceived a metal token with which you got a cup of coffee or a 
glass of beer. Mayakovsky would stand for hours at these 
roulette wheels. When he left Paris he gave Elsa Triolet hun- 
dreds of tokens. He had no use for them, he had only wanted 
to guess which color would turn up. He put only one bullet 
in the cylinder of the revolver — again a game of double or 
quits. . . . 18 

Whenever Mayakovsky talked to women, his voice 
changed: usually harsh and incisive, it became soft. I read 
in a book by Victor Shklovsky, "Mayakovsky went abroad. 
He met a woman and there may have been a love affair. I 
am told that they were so like each other and got along so 
well that the people in the cafes smiled appreciatively when 
they saw them." 19 Mayakovsky 's poem to Tatiana Yakov- 
leva, the one mentioned by Shklovsky, has recently been 
published. And I have kept the manuscript of The Bedbug 
he gave to "Tata" (Tatiana Yakovleva), which she had 

18 The method Mayakovsky chose to commit suicide in 1930 — Russian 
roulette — has until now never been hinted at in a Soviet publication. 

19 While in Paris in 1928 Mayakovsky fell desperately in love with a young 
White Russian emigree, Tatiana Yakovleva. When he wished to return to 
France to visit her the following year, he was refused a visa by the author- 

244 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

thrown away. No, she was not like Mayakovsky, although, 
like him, she was tall and good-looking. I do not want to in- 
dulge in what Mayakovsky rightly called "gossip," and have 
only mentioned this episode (by no means the most sig- 
nificant one in the poet's life) to show how little he re- 
sembled the bronze statue erected to him of the heroic St. 
Vladimir of popular legend. 

When Mayakovsky was eighteen years old, he entered 
an art school — he wanted to become a painter. In his po- 
etry his perception of the world is that of a painter; his 
images are visual, and not derived from his fantasy. He 
liked painting and had a feeling for it, and he also liked the 
company of artists. He didn't hear the world, he saw it (he 
used to say jokingly that an elephant had stepped on his 

I have mentioned elsewhere an evening at the Tsetlin's 
when Mayakovsky read "Man." Vyacheslav Ivanov 20 nod- 
ded his head approvingly from time to time. Balmont was 
clearly bored. Baltrushaitis 21 was as usual inscrutable. Ma- 
rina Tsvetayeva 22 smiled, while Pasternak kept glancing lov- 
ingly at Mayakovsky. Andrei Bely listened ecstatically, and 
when Mayakovsky had finished reading, jumped up in such 
excitement he could hardly speak. Nearly everybody shared 
his enthusiasm. But Mayakovsky was annoyed by someone's 
cold, polite remark. This is how he always was — he seemed 
never to notice his laurels, but always to be seeking the 
thorns. In his verse he wages a constant battle with the ene- 
mies, real and imagined, of the new poetry. What was the 
real meaning of his taunts? Was he perhaps arguing with 

I have read some articles on Mayakovsky written abroad, 
whose authors try to prove that the poet was destroyed by 
the Revolution. It is difficult to imagine anything more ab- 

20 Symbolist poet who emigrated to Italy in 1924. 

21 Yurgis Baltrushaitis, a Lithuanian poet who also wrote in Russian. 

22 The poetess who became an emigree in the early 'twenties. She com- 
mitted suicide after her return to Russia in 1939. 


surd. Without the Revolution there would have been no 
Mayakovsky. In 1918 he rightly called me a "frightened in- 
tellectual"; it took me two years to understand what it 
was all about, but Mayakovsky understood and accepted 
the Revolution at once. He was not only carried away — he 
was completely absorbed by the building of a socialist soci- 
ety. He never made any concessions in anything and, when 
certain people tried to bring him to heel, he snapped back: 
" 'Turn your faces to the village.' That's the slogan they've 
launched. To your lyres, my poet friends! But understand, 
I've only one face — a face not a weathervane. You can't mix 
ideas with water; water's for turkeys to wet their feet. A 
poet without ideas has never even lived. What do you think 
I am? A parrot, or a turkey?" He was never in conflict with 
the Revolution; that's an invention of people who will stop 
at nothing in their struggle against communism. Mayakov- 
sky's trouble was not the clash between poetry and Revolu- 
tion, but the attitude of his LEF to art: "Let the poets moan, 
dribbling at the mouth, twisting their lips in contempt. I, 
striking out my soul, shout about what's needed in the time 
of socialism." At the time, one of the newspapers changed 
the words: "I, without humbling my soul," instead of "I, 
striking out my soul," but Mayakovsky restored the original 
text, which gives us the clue to his poetic and human 

Mayakovsky liked Leger; they had something in common 
in their understanding of the role of art in contemporary so- 
ciety. Leger was enthralled by machinery and urbanism. He 
wanted art in his everyday life, and did not go to museums. 
He painted good pictures which, in my view, are decorative 
and do not in any way diminish our love of Van Gogh or 
Picasso, but which undoubtedly reflect modern times. For a 
number of years, Mayakovsky waged war against poetry not 
only in manifestoes and articles; he also tried to destroy 
verse with verse. The LEF magazine published a death sen- 
tence on art — on the "so-called poets," "so-called artists" 
and "so-called directors." Instead of traditional art, painters 

246 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

were advised to concern themselves with the aesthetics of 
machinery, textiles, and pots and pans; directors were ad- 
vised to organize folk festivals and demonstrations and say 
good-by to the footlights, while poets were advised to leave 
lyrics alone to write for newspapers, and compose texts for 
posters and advertisements. 

It wasn't so easy to give up poetry, even though Mayakov- 
sky was a strong-willed man. But there were times when he 
desisted from his own expressed policy. In 1923, when LEF 
was still denouncing lyricism, Mayakovsky wrote his "About 
This." 23 It was not understood even by the people close 
to him, and was run down by both his allies and his enemies 
in literature, but nevertheless it enriched Russian poetry. 

As the years went by, he relented in his renunciation of 
the art of the past. At the end of 1928, New LEF reported 
that Mayakovsky had stated publicly, "I pardon Rem- 
brandt." I will remind readers once again that he died 
young. He lived, thought, felt, and wrote in his own way — 
he was above all a poet. I remember the enthusiasm with 
which he spoke of the new industrial beauty of America in 
those distant years when the electrification of our country 
was still only an idea, when on the dark, snowbound Thea- 
ter Square lamps shone with the sign: "Children are the 
flowers of life." I met him when he came back from Amer- 
ica. Yes, Brooklyn Bridge is a great thing, of course, and 
they've got so many machines over there. But how barbarous 
and inhuman it is! He cursed and said how pleased he had 
been to see the tiny gardens of Normandy. LEF's program 
assumed rejection of Paris — where every house is a broken 
fragment of the past — and glorification of the ultramodern 
industrialized America. But Mayakovsky damned America, 
and not ashamed of seeming sentimental, declared his love 
for Paris. What is the reason for this contradiction? LEF 
lasted only a few years, while Mayakovsky was a great poet. 
In his programmatic verse he scoffed at the admirers of 

23 A long, lyrical poem, with suicidal overtones, in which Mayakovsky de- 
spairs of the infidelity of his mistress. 


Pushkin and people who visited the Louvre, but he was also 
enchanted by lines from Onegin and by old paintings. 

He realized right away that the October Revolution had 
changed the course of history; yet he saw the details of the 
future schematically, like a poster rather than a painting. 
Nowadays we would hardly be attracted by the hygienic 
idyll of the last act of The Bedbug. To Mayakovsky the art 
of the past seemed not so much alien as doomed. His icon- 
oclasm was like a taking of the vows — "a feat of self- 
denial." 24 He waged war not only against various critics and 
against the authors of sentimental ballads, but against him- 
self as well. He wrote : "I want to be understood by my coun- 
try, but if I am not — what then? I'll pass through my native 
land like a shower of slanting rain/' and then crossed out 
these lines, thinking them too sentimental. But his native 
country did understand him, and also understood the 
beautiful verses he discarded. 

I remember him in the autumn of 1928. At that time he 
stayed more than a month in Paris. We often met. I see him 
in a somber mood in a little bar called La Coupole. He or- 
dered White Horse whisky, drinking little of it but writing 
a ditty which went, "White Horse whisky is a good old 
mare, with a white mane and white tail." Once he said to 
me: "Do you think I have an easy time of it? ... I could 
write better verse than anybody." To the very end he was 
devoted to his concept of himself. 

There has been much conjecture about why he committed 
suicide — some say it was difficulties over the exhibition, 25 
others that it was the attacks of RAPP, and others that it 
was a love affair. I don't like this sort of guessing game: I 
can't view the life of a man I knew as I would the plot of a 
novel. ... I will say only one thing: people often forget 
that a poet is an unusually sensitive person, otherwise he 
wouldn't be a poet. Mayakovsky called himself an "ox" and 

24 podvig. 

25 "Twenty Years of Work," an exhibition of Mayakovsky 's writings and 
posters which took place a few months before his suicide. 

248 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

spoke of his poems as "hippopotamuses," and at one gather- 
ing said he had had the hide of an elephant and that it was 
bulletproof. In actual fact he did not even have ordinary 
human skin. 

According to Christian legend, the heathen Saul, once 
he had become the Apostle Paul, began to cast down the 
graven images of gods and goddesses. The images were per- 
fection itself, but Paul succeeded in overcoming his sense 
of the beautiful. Mayakovsky cast down not only the beauty 
of the past, but himself as well; that is the greatness of his 
"feat of serf-denial" and also the key to his tragedy. 

In St. Petersburg there was a writer called Andrei Levin- 
son, who was considered a connoisseur of choreography. In 
1918 he published a lampoon of Mayakovsky in the maga- 
zine Life of Art. He was answered by many artists and also 
by Lunacharsky. Levinson emigrated to Paris. When he got 
the tragic news of Mayakovsky's death, he wrote a vile and 
slanderous notice in Les Nouvelles Litteraires. Together 
with several French writers I composed a letter to the 
editors of this literary newspaper in which we expressed 
our indignation. The letter was signed by all decent French 
writers of the most divergent views; I don't remember any- 
body refusing to sign. I took the letter to the editor, Maurice 
Martin du Gard (he was an insignificant figure, nothing like 
the great writer Roger Martin du Gard). The editor calmly 
read through this extremely sharp letter and then said: "I 
would like to ask you to make one small change." I an- 
swered that the text could not be modified. "I am not asking 
for that, but perhaps you could change the phrase "We are 
outraged that a literary journal" to "we are outraged that 
the greatest of literary journals." He didn't mind being 
slapped on the face, but he wanted us to make clear that it 
was a big face. This would have been a great theme for 
Mayakovsky. . . . 

Mayakovsky's fortunes in the world at large have been ex- 
traordinary. Not long ago some writers from black Africa 
talked to me about him; he had even reached them there. 


He orbits the world. His verse is of course difficult to trans- 
late and much of what he claimed to be the form of the 
future is now the form of the past. But as man and poet he 
is young as always. Neither Aragon, nor Pablo Neruda, nor 
Eluard, nor Tuwim, nor Nezval has ever written an imita- 
tion of Mayakovsky. But they all owe much to Mayakovsky — 
he taught them not new verse forms but how to make a 
courageous choice in life. 26 

We must be able to distinguish between the modern and 
the fashionable, between the pioneering spirit and various 
"novelties" which appear old-fashioned twenty-five years 
later. ... In 1940 nine-tenths of the budding poets broke 
up their lines in Mayakovsky 's manner, but they are now 
imitating other examples; fashions change. Mayakovsky was 
beaten about the head with volumes of Pushkin, Nekrasov, 
and Blok. Should we now pummel the young with volumes of 

I have said that Mayakovsky could have helped me fig- 
ure many things out. I remember a conversation we had one 
night in February, or maybe March, 1918. We had left the 
Poets' Cafe together. Mayakovsky was asking all about Paris, 
Picasso, and Apollinaire. Then he said he liked my poem on 
the execution of Pugachev. "You should be happy, but 
you're whining. That's bad!" I readily agreed: "Of course 
that's bad!" Politically he was right, as I soon realized, but 
we always thought and felt differently. In 1922 he told me 
he liked Jurenito. 27 "You understand many things better 
than other people. ..." I laughed: "Actually I don't think 
I understand anything yet. . . ." We often met, yet never 
came really close together. 

I have often thought about Mayakovsky. Sometimes I 
disagree with him, but I am always full of admiration for his 

26 I.e. the choice of becoming a communist, which was made by all the 
poets mentioned, in various circumstances. 

27 Julio Jurenito, a picaresque novel by Ehrenburg published in 1922, whose 
hero is modeled on Diego Rivera, and which pokes fun at all political 
systems, including the new Soviet regime. 

250 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

poetic achievements. I never look at his statue. It stands 
still, but Mayakovsky is on the move — through the newly 
built districts of Moscow, through old Paris, through the 
whole of our planet; he moves, not with his stocks of novel 
rhymes but with his new thoughts and feelings. . . . 

Every morning the townsfolk carefully studied the 
still damp, crinkled decrees pasted on the walls to find 
out what was allowed and what was forbidden. Once I saw 
a crowd of people in front of a placard which bore the 
title "Decree No. 1 on the Democratization of the Arts." 
Somebody was reading out loud: "Art's permit to reside in 
those woodsheds and outhouses of human genius — palaces, 
galleries, salons, libraries, and theaters — is hereby annulled 
together with the Czarist regime." "Heavens, they're taking 
away our outhouses!" squealed a woman. The man in spec- 
tacles who had read the "decree" aloud explained to her: 
"It doesn't say anything about outhouses, but the librar- 
ies will be closed down and the theaters, of course. . . ." 
The poster had been composed by the futurists and bore 
the signatures: "Mayakovsky, Kamensky, and Burlyuk." 
These names meant nothing to the passers-by, but they all 
understood the magic word "decree." 

I remember May Day, 1918. Moscow was decked out 
with futurist and suprematist paintings. Crazy squares 
wrestled with rhombuses, and faces with triangles instead 
of eyes spotted the peeling facades of colonnaded Empire 
mansions. (The art which is now called "abstract" and is 
much discussed both here and in the West, was at that 
time served up to Soviet citizens in unlimited quantities.) 
That year, May Day coincided with Good Friday. Wor- 
shippers thronged the street near the chapel of the Iberian 
Virgin. Trucks which had once belonged to the Stupin 
Company drove by draped with abstract canvasses. Actors 
on the trucks were performing various scenes such as "The 
Exploits of Stepan Khalturin" or the "Paris Commune." 
An old woman, looking at a cubist painting with an enor- 


mous fish-eye, was wailing, "They want us to pray to the 
devil. . . ." 

I laughed, but my laughter was cheerless. 

I have just reread an article I wrote in the summer of 
1918 for the paper Monday entitled "Among the Cubists." 
In it I talked about Picasso, Leger, and Rivera. I said that 
the works of these artists could be regarded either as "lu- 
natic decorations of a house about to collapse, or as the 
foundation of a new structure, hitherto undreamed of even 
in the dreams of artists." 

It's no accident, of course, that Picasso, Leger, and Rivera 
became communists. It was not the academically inclined 
artists, but the futurists, cubists, and suprematists who 
were on Red Square in 1918. What was it that disturbed me 
about the triumph of these artists and poets, who reminded 
me (though only outwardly) of the greatest friends of my 
early youth? 

Above all, it was their attitude to the art of the past. 
Everyone knows that Mayakovsky developed and changed, 
but remained at the same time a passionate iconoclast: 
"You find a White Guardist, and put him against the wall. 
Rut what about Raphael? What about Rastrelli? 28 It's high 
time that bullets spatter the walls of museums. Shoot up 
that old rubbish through the maws of 100-inch guns. Deaf 
to White Guard blandishments, you've mounted your guns 
at the edge of the forest. And why isn't Pushkin taken by 
storm?" I could not understand this. Often, wondering along 
the streets on Moscow, I have repeated Pushkin's verse to 
myself and lovingly recalled the old Italian masters. When 
first arriving in Moscow, almost the first thing I did was to 
race to the Kremlin. I was staggered by fifteenth-century 
painting; until then I had no idea of the Russian renaissance. 

Arguments about the values of the past soon died down. 

28 Count Bartolommeo Rastrelli, the Italian-born rococo architect who de- 
signed most of St. Petersburg's palaces and government buildings during the 
reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. 

252 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

Mayakovsky wrote a poem about Pushkin and materials 
on Mayakovsky have now been published in the Academy 
of Sciences "Literary Heritage" series. 29 (I have already 
mentioned the magazine The Thing; among its staff mem- 
bers were many representatives of our "left-wing art" — 
Mayakovsky, Malevich, Meyerhold, Tatlin, and Rodchenko. 
In an article on the aims of the magazine I wrote: "It is now 
ridiculous and naive 'to throw Pushkin overboard/ There 
is a continuity in form and classical examples have no 
terrors for the modern masters. We can learn from Pushkin 
and Poussin . . . The Thing does not deny the past in the 
past, but calls for the modern in the modern. . . .") 

Mayakovsky is not a difficult poet: his poems were always 
met with roars of laughter. Before the Revolution people 
used to make fun of the pictures of the futurist (Male- 
vich, Tatlin, Rodchenko, Puni, Udaltsova, Popova, and 
Altman). After October the epigones of classical poetry 
and art began to pack their bags. Both Bunin and Repin 
went abroad. The futurists, cubists, and suprematists stayed 
behind. Like their Western counterparts, and the prewar 
habitues of the Rotonde, they hated bourgeois society and 
saw the way out in revolution. 

The futurists decided that people's tastes could be changed 
just as rapidly as the economic structure of society. The 
magazine The Art of the Commune wrote: "We definitely 
lay claim, and would probably not refuse if allowed, to use 
the power of the state to put our ideas of art into practice." 
This was of course more of a dream than a threat. The Mos- 
cow streets were decked with suprematists and cubists 
mainly because the academically minded artists were in 
the opposition (political not artistic). The results were 
nevertheless lamentable. The trouble was not the old woman 
who thought that a cubist painting was the devil, but the 

29 The volume on Mayakovsky, published in 1958, which contains, among 
other biographical materials, some of his love letters, was soon withdrawn 
from sale and its editors accused of "defamation." 


artistic reaction which followed the brief appearance in the 
streets of "left-wing art." 

Discoveries in the field of the exact sciences are prov- 
able, and whether or not Einstein is right can be decided 
by mathematicians and not by the millions of people who 
remember nothing but their multiplication tables. New art 
forms have always reached people's awareness slowly and 
by tortuous paths, being at first appreciated and accepted 
only by a few. In any case, it is not possible to prescribe, 
inculcate, or foist tastes on people. The gods of the ancient 
Greeks used nectar, which the poets called ambrosia; but if 
nectar had been forcibly passed through a tube into the 
stomachs of the Athenian citizens, they would have prob- 
ably ended up vomiting all over the town. 

Anyhow, all this is now ancient history (not only argu- 
ments on who is going to bedeck the squares of Moscow, 
but also on "left-wing art"). Once again I will break the 
rules which oblige a writer of memoirs to keep chronological 
order. I'm trying to understand what happened to me and 
many poets and artists of my generation. I don't know who 
entangled the threads — our opponents or we ourselves — 
but I will try to unravel them. 

First of all, I would like to talk about myself. I was soon 
carried away by what was then called "constructivism" but 
I admit that the idea of "dissolving" art in life both inspired 
and repelled me. In 1921 I wrote a book called E pur si 
Muove, which was rebellious and naive, and something like 
the proclamations of LEF (LEF pointed out that "the Eh- 
renburg group's conclusions coincide with ours to a great 
extent"). I was seeking to show that "the new art ceases to 
be art." At the same time I was laughing at my own ideas; 
in the same year, I wrote Julio Jurenito; my hero reduces 
propositions of E pur si Muove to absurdity. Jurenito says: 
"Art is a hotbed of anarchy, and artists are heretics, sectar- 
ians, and dangerous rebels. So art must be prohibited with- 
out hesitation in the same way that distilling hard liquor 

254 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

and importing opium are prohibited. The cubist or suprema- 
tist pictures can be used for various purposes, such as proto- 
types for kiosks on the main streets, designs on fabrics, and 
models for new footwear, and so on. Poetry is changing to 
the language of newspapers, cables, and business conver- 
sations. ..." I was not double-crossing — double-crossing, 
after all, always proceeds from either fear or deliberate 
calculation. I simply didn't believe very much in the death 
of art proclaimed by so many, including myself. 

Futurism was born at the beginning of our century in pro- 
vincial, technically backward Italy. There at every corner 
you could see magnificent monuments of the past, while the 
shops sold German knives, French saucepans, and English 
cloth. Factory chimneys had not yet begun to elbow their 
way into the polite society of ancient towers. (The north of 
Italy can now compete with the most industrialized coun- 
tries, but you won't find any more futurists in Italy who de- 
mand the burning of all museums, while the former futurists 
Carra and Severini are inspired by Giotto's frescoes or the 
Ravenna mosaics. ) The enthusiasm of Mayakovsky, Tatlin, 
and other representatives of Russian "left-wing art" for in- 
dustrial aesthetics during the first years of the Revolution is 
quite understandable; at that time not only lumps of sugar 
but even matches were being sold singly on the Sukhar- 
evka. 30 In Mystery Bouffe Mayakovsky dreamed of the fu- 
ture as follows: "The airy giants of transparent factories and 
apartment houses will tower into the sky. Trains, streetcars 
and automobiles stand woven in rainbows . . ." (When the 
artist depicts nature or human emotions, his works do not 
grow old. Nobody would say that a woman of the twentieth 
century is more beautiful or more perfect than Nike of the 
Acropolis, created twenty-five centuries before; nobody 
laughs at Hamlet's anguish or Romeo's love for Juliet. But 
the painter has only to take to machinery and his Utopias 
are surpassed or refuted by time. Wells was an extremely 

30 Moscow's famous "flea market' 


educated man, and he thought that he foresaw the future, 
but the discoveries of modern physics have made his Utopian 
novels ridiculous. How could Mayakovsky foresee that 
streetcars would soon share the fate of horse-drawn buses or 
that trains would become an archaic means of communica- 

Picasso's cubist paintings were not born of a longing for 
machinery, but of a painter's desire to free himself from su- 
perfluous details in his depiction of man, nature, and the 
world. Nowadays few people are interested in the books of 
Metzinger, Gleizes, or other theoreticians of cubism, but the 
canvases of Picasso, Braque, and Leger are alive; they de- 
light us, upset us, and move us. Picasso considers himself the 
heir of Velasquez, Poussin, Delacroix, and Cezanne, and he 
never saw electric trains or jet aircraft as the legitimate heirs 
of art. 

It stands to reason that art has always gradually become 
part of everyday life, changing buildings, clothing, vocabu- 
lary, gestures, and household utensils. Medieval poetry with 
its chivalrous cult of womanhood helped people to find forms 
for the expression of their feelings. The canvases of Watteau 
and Fragonard became part of life, altered the layout of 
parks, mens suits, and dances, and have had an effect on 
divans and snuffboxes. Cubism has helped modern city- 
dwellers to free themselves from over-ornamented houses; it 
has had an effect on furniture, even on cigarette packages. 
The utilitarian use of art or its decorative use cannot be the 
aim of the artist, but it is a natural by-product of his creative 
flights. The opposite process is evidence of creative sterility. 
An abstract ornament is quite in place on fabric or on pot- 
tery, but when it claims the title of a work of art in itself, this 
is not the resurgence of art but its decline. 

I was recently at a retrospective exhibition of Malevich 
in Brussels. His early work ("J a °k of Diamonds" period) is 
very good. In 1913 he painted a black square on a white back- 
ground. This was the birth of abstract art, which forty years 
later cast a spell on thousands of Western painters. It seems 

256 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

to me to be ornamental first and foremost. Picasso's paint- 
ings represent a world with so many thoughts and feelings 
that they arouse either delight or genuine hatred; but the 
pictures of the abstract painters remain designs on fabric or 
wallpaper. A woman may put on a scarf with an abstract de- 
sign, her scarf may be pretty or not, it may suit the woman or 
not, but it will never make anyone think about nature, man, 
or life. 

The headlong development of technology demands from 
the painter a more profound understanding of man's inner 
world. This was quickly realized by those advocates of "left- 
wing art," who were the champions of industrial aesthetics. 
After seeing America, Mayakovsky stated that industry 
would have to be muzzled. He was thinking, of course, of the 
part played by the painter, but he was not denying the ne- 
cessity for technical progress (at that time, in 1925, there 
was extremely little modern machinery in Moscow); Maya- 
kovsky realized that unless a humanistic muzzle was placed 
over the face of industry, it would bite man. Meyerhold, hav- 
ing forgotten about biomechanics, was absorbed in The For- 
est 31 and The Inspector General, and had visions of produc- 
ing Hamlet. Tatlin took to conventional painting, while 
Altaian painted portraits; Puni became a small landscape 
painter. In the meantime the nectar and the stomach tube 
had passed into different hands which were much more 
suited to such operations. 

Our museums have a splendid collection of "left-wing art" 
from the first years after the Revolution. It's a shame that 
these collections are not open to the public. You can't re- 
move a link from a chain. I know some young Soviet painters 
who "discover America" in 1960 and do ( or rather try to do ) 
what Malevich, Tatlin, Popova, and Rozanova did in their 
time. If they could perhaps see the history of the develop- 
ment of these painters, they would not try to return to 1920, 
but would find something new in tune with our times. Our 

31 A classic nineteenth-century realist play by Alexander Ostrovsky. 


young poets know Khlebnikov's verse and appreciate him 
still, but do not try to imitate him blindly. Why is Tatlin 
"more dangerous" than Khlebnikov? Maybe because the 
monopoly of one trend 32 has become particularly entrenched 
in the field of plastic art. . . . 

Naturally, the representatives of our "left-wing art" during 
the first years of the Revolution were mistaken in many ways. 
The mistakes of artists, writers, and composers are discussed 
often and with avidity; this is hardly due to the fact that they 
alone make mistakes. . . . But now, looking back, I think 
with gratitude even of that canvas which scared the old 
woman near the Chapel of the Iberian Virgin. Much has 
been done, and a concentrate is always diluted. Noble traces 
of "left-wing art" can be seen in the works of a number of 
writers, painters, producers, film producers, and composers 
of the ensuing decades. 

Throughout my life I have never been an ardent supporter 
of any one school of painting. I compared the young Maya- 
kovsky with St. Paul, who cast down the graven images of 
the false gods. Before he embraced the new faith, Paul 
was called Saul. In 1922, when I was defending constructiv- 
ism and editing the magazine The Thing, Victor Shklovsky 
called me Paul Saulovich 33 in his book Zoo — this was spiteful 
but just. Through the whole of my life I have kept my love 
for many works of art of the past — the novels of Stendhal, 
the stories of Chekhov, the verse of Tyutchev, Baudelaire, 
and Blok. It has not stopped my hating imitations or liking 
Picasso or Meyerhold. Paul must have a patronymic, and it's 
better to sculpt a new statue than to destroy, even for the 
highest reasons, a statue that has already been made. To the 
sculptor who chiseled the effigies of the Indian gods and 
goddesses in Ellora, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva were gods; 
to us they were images created by the genius of man whose 
passions are close to ours and whose harmonies are clear to 

32 I.e. socialist realism. 

33 A mock patronymic meaning "son of Saul. 

258 ] Ilya Ehrenburg 

Idols have outlived their time not only in religion but also 
in art. Iconoclasm has died together with the adoration of 
icons. But could the desire to say something new in a new 
way really disappear on that account? I recently read the 
words "modest innovation" in a periodical; at first they 
amused me, then they saddened me. An artist must be 
modest in behavior, but by no means moderate, tepid, or 
limited in his creative endeavors. Surely, it is more seemly 
to write squiggles in one's own way than to copy something 
of the past in neat handwriting. I feel that kolkhozniks de- 
picted in the manner of the academic school of Bologna will 
give pleasure to few, and that it is not possible to convey the 
rhythm of the second half of the twentieth century with that 
plethora of relative clauses which Leo Tolstoy used so bril- 


Ilvtushenko was born in 1933 in Irkutsk province, where his 
Ukrainian peasant grandfather was exiled under the Czarist 
regime. He came to Moscow in 1948, and attended the Gorky 
Literary Institute. One of the most outspoken of the younger 
poets, he is idolized by the restive young intelligentsia, and has 
thus far resisted the temptation of being co-opted into the Soviet 

Like many Soviet intellectuals, he is evidently troubled by the 
persistence of anti-Semitism in the USSR. Babi Yar, the ravine 
near Kiev where some 34,000 Jews were shot by the Nazis in 
1941, is a symbol both of the wartime agony of Soviet Jews and 
of their present plight. Khrushchev, when he was First Secretary 
of the Ukrainian Communist Party after the war, publicly an- 
nounced that a memorial would be erected at Babi Yar to the 
victims of the massacre, but the place remains to this day a deso- 
late garbage dump. The publication of Evtushenko's poem in 
Literary Gazette on September 19, 1961, opened the first po- 
lemic on the inflammatory topic of Soviet anti-Semitism: the 
Nazi massacre of Jews is scarcely a more popular subject in the 
Soviet press than present-day anti-Semitism which has, up to 
now, not been acknowledged at all. Evtushenko was denounced 
for overconcern with Jews, for singling out Jews as particular 
victims of Nazi genocide policy, and for slandering the Soviet 
people. These attacks seem to have made Evtushenko more of a 
hero than ever among young people, who wildly and pointedly 
cheer him whenever he appears in public. 

A line of "Babi Yar" was apparently excised before publica- 
tion. In a public reading of the poem before its publication, it 
has been reported that Evtushenko included a line which stated 
that anti-Semitic sentiments among Russians "still arise on the 
vapors of alcohol and in conversations after drinking." Transla- 
tion by Max Hayward. 


Babi Yar 

There are no memorials at Babi Yar — 

The steep slope is the only gravestone. 

I am afraid. 

Today I am as old as the Jewish people. 

It seems to me now that I am a Jew. 

Now I am wandering in Ancient Egypt. 

And now, crucified on the cross, I die 

And even now I bear the marks of the nails. 

It seems to me that I am Dreyfus. 

The worthy citizenry denounces me and judges me. 

I am behind prison bars. 

I am trapped, hunted, spat upon, reviled 

And good ladies in dresses flounced with Brussels lace 

Shrieking, poke umbrellas in my face. 

It seems to me that I am a boy in Byelostok, 

Blood flows and spreads across the floor. 

Reeking of onion and vodka 

The leading lights of the saloon 

Are on the rampage. 

Booted aside, I am helpless: 

I plead with the pogrom thugs 

To roars of "Beat the Yids, and save Russia," 

A shopkeeper is beating up my mother. 

my Russian people! 

You are really international at heart. 
But the unclean 
Have often loudly taken in vain 
Your most pure name. 

1 know how good is my native land 

BAB I YAR [261 

And how vile is that, without a quiver, 

The anti-Semites styled themselves with pomp 

"The union of the Russian people." 

It seems to me that I am Anne Frank, 

As frail as a twig in April. 

And I am full of love 

And I have no need of empty phrases. 

I want us to look at each other, 

How little we can see or smell, 

Neither the leaves on the trees nor the sky. 

But we can do a lot. 

We can tenderly embrace in a dark room. 

Someone is coming? Don't be afraid — 

It is the noise of spring itself. 

Come to me, give me your lips. 

Someone is forcing the door. 

No, it is the breaking up of the ice . . . 

Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar. 

The trees look down sternly, like judges. 

Everything here shrieks silently 

And, taking off my cap, 

I sense that I am turning gray. 

And I myself am nothing but a silent shriek, 

Over the thousands and thousands buried in this place. 

I am every old man who was shot here. 

I am every boy who was shot here. 

No part of me will ever forget any of this. 

Let the "Internationale" ring out 

When the last anti-Semite on earth is buried. 

There is no Jewish blood in mine, 

But I am hated by every anti-Semite as a Jew, 

And for this reason, 

I am a true Russian. 


J\rzdk is the pseudonym of a Soviet writer who, judging from 
his accomplished Russian style, is probably an experienced pro- 
fessional. This nightmarish satire on the Soviet regime's contempt 
for public opinion would seem much less far-fetched to a Soviet 
reader than to a Western one. The reactions of the various char- 
acters to a particularly outrageous announcement by the govern- 
ment is a by no means implausible study in the mentality of a 
people whose political reflexes have for so long been conditioned 
by terror. 

Arzak is also the author of a gruesome short story, The Hands, 
which concerns a former Cheka member whose nerves are shat- 
tered in the early days of the Revolution during the execution of 
a priest. As a joke, his comrades load his gun with blanks and 
he is overcome with superstitious horror when the priest seems 
immune to his bullets. Like "This Is Moscow Speaking" it has 
thus far been published only in Polish translation by Kultura, 

The poets to whom the various verse extracts in this story are 
ascribed appear to be fictitious. Translation by John Richardson. 


This Is Moscow Speaking 

"Mew!" whimpers the little kitten. 
"Mew!" it cannot yet meow properly. 
Oppressed by boundless solitude, 
It wanders dejectedly among the benches. 

Reclining on the benches beside it 

Are people, crude, all-powerful, and big, 

The cars around growl like dogs, 


It is afraid. What lies ahead? 

Independence has suddenly befallen 
Its pitiful, feline intellect. 
"Mew!" whimpers the emancipated cat. 
"Explain to me! Show mercy!" 

No matter, it will be matured by 

wearisome wanderings. 
It will be adorned with claws and fangs 
Its yellow teeth will flash 
Like the glass of broken vodka bottles 
It will master "Meow." It will proclaim 

in a strong voice 
That it will take on any thug; 

But for the moment, its heart is in pieces, 
For the moment, it's "Mew! Mew! Mew!" 

— Ilya Chur, "Moscow Boulevards" 

When I now try to reconstruct in my mind the events of the 
past year, I find it very difficult to put my memories in order 
or to give a coherent and consistent account of everything I 
saw, heard, and felt; but the day when it began I remember 
very well, down to the minutest detail, down to the merest 

We were sitting in the garden at the dacha. We had all ar- 
rived the night before to celebrate Igor's birthday; we had 
drunk a great deal, made a lot of noise into the early hours, 
and finally gone to bed in complete certainty that we would 
not wake up until midday; the suburban tranquility, how- 
ever, woke us up at seven o'clock. We got up and all began 
doing all sorts of absurd things; we ran about the lanes in 
our shorts, did exercises on the beam (no one was able to 
pull himself up more than five times), and Volodya Mar- 
gulis even doused himself with water from the well, although 

264 ] Nikolai Arzak 

everyone knew that he never washed in the mornings, mak- 
ing the excuse that he would be late for work. 

We sat around and argued vehemently on the best way 
to spend a Sunday. Swimming, volley-ball, and boating were 
naturally among the activities mentioned, and one mis- 
guided enthusiast even suggested a cross-country walk to 
the church in the next village. 

"It's a very nice church/' he said. "A very old one, I don't 
remember which century. . . ." 

But everybody laughed at him — no one felt like walking 
four miles in the heat. 

We probably looked rather strange — men and women in 
their thirties undressed as though for the beach. We tactfully 
tried not to notice all sorts of unexpected things about each 
other, both amusing and depressing: hollow chests and incip- 
ient potbellies in the case of the men, and hairy legs and no 
waists in the case of the women. We had all known each 
other for a long time, and were familiar with each other's 
suits, ties, and dresses, but no one had imagined how we 
would look without clothes, in a state of nature. Who would 
have thought, for instance, that Igor, who was always so 
elegant and dignified, and so successful with his female col- 
leagues at the college, would turn out to be bandy-legged? 
Examining each other was as interesting, amusing, and 
shame-making as looking at dirty postcards. 

We sat with our backsides glued to the chairs, which 
looked so absurd on the grass, and talked about our forth- 
coming athletic feats. Suddenly Lily a appeared on the ter- 

"Boys," she said, "I just don't understand it." 

"And what exactly are you supposed to understand? Come 
and join us." 

"I just don't understand it," she repeated, smiling sadly. 
"Over the radio . . . they broadcast it over the radio ... I 
only heard the end ... it will be broadcast again in ten 
minutes' time." 

"The latest reduction — the twenty-first so far — in the 


prices of horsecollars and harnesses," said Volodya, mimick- 
ing an announcer's voice. . . . 

"Let's go inside," said Lilya. 

We all trooped into the room where a square plastic loud- 
speaker was hanging modestly on a nail. In reply to our 
puzzled questions Lilya did nothing but sigh. 

"Steamboatlike sighs," joked Volodya. "That's a good 
metaphor, isn't it? As good as something out of Ilf and 

"Lilya, stop pulling our legs," began Igor. "I realize you 
find it boring washing the dishes by yourself . . ." 

At this moment the radio began speaking. 

"This is Moscow speaking," it said. "We are now broad- 
casting a Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of 
Soviet Socialist Republics, dated July 16, 1960. In view of 
the increased well-being . . ." 

I looked around. Everybody was standing quietly listen- 
ing to the reverberating baritone of the announcer; only 
Lilya bustled about like a photographer trying to take a pic- 
ture of children, and made beckoning signs in the direction 
of the loudspeaker. 

". . . in response to the wishes of the masses of working 
people . . ." 

"Volodya, give me a match," said Zoya. They all hissed 
at her. She shrugged her shoulders and, dropping the unlit 
cigarette into the palm of her hand, turned away toward the 
window .... 

". . . Sunday, August 10, 1960, is declared . . ." 

"Here it comes!" cried Lilya. 

". . . Public Murder Day. On that day all citizens of the 
Soviet Union who have attained the age of sixteen are given 
the right of free extermination of any other citizen with the 
exception of persons mentioned in the first paragraph of the 
annex to this Decree. The Decree comes into force on August 
10, 1960, at six a.m. Moscow time, and expires at midnight. 
Paragraph one. Murder of the following categories is pro- 
hibited: (a) children under sixteen; (b) persons dressed in 

266 ] Nikolai Arzdk 

the uniform of the Armed Forces or the Militia, and (c) 
transport workers engaged in the execution of their duties. 
Paragraph two. Murders committed prior to or subsequent 
to the above-mentioned period and murders committed for 
purposes of gain or resulting from sexual assault will be re- 
garded as a criminal offense and punished in accordance with 
the existing laws. Moscow. The Kremlin. Chairman of the 
Presidium of the Supreme . . ." 

Then the radio said: 

"We will now broadcast a concert of light music. . . ." 

We stood and looked at one another in a daze. 

"Extraordinary," I said, "most extraordinary. I can't see the 

"They'll explain it," said Zoya. "The newspapers are bound 
to have an explanation." 

"Comrades, it's a trick!" Igor was prancing around the room 
looking for his shirt. "It's a trick. It's the 'Voice of America' 
broadcasting on our wave length!" 

He hopped up and down on one foot, drawing on his pants. 

"Oh, sorry!" he ran out into the terrace and buttoned up 
his fly. No one was amused. 

"The 'Voice of America' " said Volodya thoughtfully. "No, 
it's not possible. It's not technically possible. After all," and 
he looked at his watch, "it's half past nine. There are broad- 
casts going on. If they were operating on our wave length 
we'd hear both broadcasts. . . ." 

We went outside again. Half-naked people began ap- 
pearing on the terraces of neighboring dachas. They huddled 
together in groups, shrugging their shoulders and waving 
their arms in confusion. 

Zoya lit her cigarette at last. She sat down on a step rest- 
ing her elbows on her knees. I looked at her hips in the tight- 
fitting bathing suit, and at her breasts half revealed by the 
low-cut top. Despite her plumpness, she was very attractive. 
More so than any of the other women. As always, her ex- 
pression was calm and rather sleepy. Behind her back they 
used to call her "Madame Phlegmatic." 


Igor was fully dressed and, contrasted with the rest of us, 
looked like a missionary among Polynesians. Ever since 
Volodya had categorically asserted that the radio announce- 
ment could not have been a trick played by transatlantic 
gangsters, he had become subdued. He evidently regretted 
the fact that he had dismissed the broadcast so lightly, but in 
my opinion he had nothing to worry about. There were not 
supposed to be any informers among us. 

"What are we getting excited about, anyway?" he said 
cheerfully. "Zoya is right. There'll be an explanation. Tolya, 
what do you think?" 

"Damned if I know," I mumbled. "There's still almost a 
month left before this, what's it called, Public . . ." 

I broke off. We stared at each other again in dismay. 

"I know," said Igor with a shake of the head, "it's all con- 
nected with international politics." 

"With the presidential elections in America, is that what 
you mean, Igor?" 

"Lilya, you ought to have kept quiet about the whole 
thing, damn it!" 

"Let's go for a swim," said Zoya, getting up. "Tolya, bring 
me my bathing cap." 

It seemed that the confusion had shaken even her, or she 
wouldn't have called me "Tolya" in front of everyone. But 
apparently no one noticed. 

As we were going toward the river, Volodya came up to 
me, took me by the arm, and said, looking at me sadly with 
his biblical eyes : 

"You know, Tolya, I think they're plotting something 
against the Jews. . . ." 

Who would be able, who could stand it, 
If they hadn't arranged 
For the sale of masks to wear at home 
For every day, for every hour? 

268 ] Nikolai Arzak 

Disguise yourself as an elevator man or poet, 

Enthusiast or dandy, 

Knock at the window for a ticket. 

Shout! but don't forget 

"No admittance without masks." 

— Ilya Chur, "Tickets Are Being Sold" 

And so here I am writing all this down and wondering 
exactly why I needed to make these notes. I shall never be 
able to have them published here; there's no one to whom I 
can even read them or show them. Should I send them 
abroad? No: first, it's not possible in practice, and second, 
what I intend to describe has already been reported in hun- 
dreds of newspapers abroad, and the radio has filled the air 
with it for days and nights; no, they've already done it to 
death abroad. Anyway, to tell the truth, to be printed abroad 
in anti-Soviet publications is not so good. 

I'm pretending. I know why I'm writing. I want to find 
out for myself what happened. And, more important, what 
happened to me. Here I am, sitting at my desk. I'm thirty- 
five. I'm still working in this ridiculous technical publishing 
house. My appearance has not changed. Nor my tastes. I 
like poetry just as much as ever. I like to have a drink. I like 
women, and on the whole they like me. I fought in the war; 
I killed. I was nearly killed myself. Whenever women sud- 
denly reach out to touch the scar on my hip, they draw 
back their hands and say in a shocked whisper: "Good 
heavens, what's that?" "It's a wound," I say, "from a dum- 
dum bullet." "Poor boy," they say, "did it hurt very much?" 
Generally speaking, everything is as before. Any one of my 
acquaintances, friends, or colleagues might easily say: "Well, 
Tolya, you haven't changed a bit!" But I know only too well 
that Public Murder Day grabbed me by the scruff of my 
neck and made me look into myself! I know that I had to get 
to know myself all over again! 

And there's another thing. I'm not a writer. In my youth 
I wrote poetry, and I still do on special occasions; I've written 
a few reviews of plays. I thought that I would gain a foothold 


in the literary world that way; but nothing came of it. Never- 
theless, I still write. No, I don't suffer from graphomania. 
Those who do (and in my profession I often come across 
them) are convinced of their own genius, but I know I 
have little or no talent. But I really want to write. After all, 
what is the great thing about the position I'm in? It's that I 
know in advance that no one will read me, and I can write 
without fear whatever comes into my head! If I want to 

And like black Africa the piano 
Bares its negroid teeth 

I do. But no one will accuse me of expressing pretentious or 
colonialist ideas. If I want to write and say that in the gov- 
ernment they're all rabble-rousers, phonies, and mostly, sons 
of bitches, I do so ... I can afford the luxury of being a 
communist when alone with myself. 

If I'm to be completely frank, however, I still hope that 
I'll have readers — not now, of course, but in many, many 
years' time when I shall no longer be alive. In Pushkin's 
words, "at some time the industrious monk will read my dili- 
gent, anonymous work . . ." and it's nice to think about it. 

Well, now that I have revealed myself to my imaginary 
readers, I can continue. 

We just weren't able to have any fun that day. Our jokes 
fell flat, we got bored playing games, didn't have anything 
to drink, and broke up early. 

The next day in Moscow I went to work. I knew in ad- 
vance that there would be an inevitable commotion about the 
Decree and that some would express their opinions while 
others would keep quiet. But to my surprise almost everyone 
kept quiet. True, two or three people asked me what I 
thought about it all. I muttered something to the effect 
that I didn't know and we would have to wait and see, and 
the conversation ended there. 

A day later a long editorial entitled "In Preparation for 
Public Murder Day" appeared in Izvestia. It made very little 

270 ] Nikolai Arzak 

mention of the reason for the measure, but repeated the 
usual jumble of expressions, such as "increased well-being" 
. . . "tremendous advances" . . . "true democracy" . . . 
"only in our country" . . . "as one man" . . . "for the first 
time in history" . . . "visible signs" . . . "bourgeois press" 
... It further stated that no damage should be done to pub- 
lic property and that therefore arson and bombings were 
prohibited. The Decree, moreover, did not cover persons 
serving sentences in jail. So there you are. The article was 
read and reread, but no one understood it any better, al- 
though people became somehow calmer. The actual style of 
the article, its routine solemnity and prosaic pomposity, 
probably reassured people. There was nothing special about 
it. After all, we had "Artillery Day" and "Soviet Press Day," 
so why not "Public Murder Day"? . . . Bus and train services 
would be operating and the police were not to be harmed — 
that meant everything was in order. Ten or so days passed 
like that. Then something began which is difficult to describe 
in words. There was a kind of strange agitation and unrest. 
No, I can't find the right words! Everyone became fidgety 
and began rushing around. In the subways, in movie houses, 
and on the streets people kept going up to each other, smiling 
obsequiously, and striking up conversations about their ail- 
ments, fishing, the quality of nylon stockings — in short, about 
anything at all. And provided they were not suddenly in- 
terrupted by their listeners, they shook their hands for a 
long time, looking gratefully and searchingly into their eyes. 
Others, particularly the young people, became rowdy and 
insolent, everyone in his own way. People sang in the streets 
and declaimed poetry in loud voices, mostly Esenin, much 
more than usual. Incidentally, on the subject of poetry, Lit- 
erature and Life published a selection of poems devoted to 
the forthcoming event by Bezymenskiy, Mikhalkov, Sofronov, 
and others. 1 Unfortunately, I can't find a copy of this issue 

1 Contemporary Soviet poets well known for their capacity to turn out verses 
on topical themes. 


recently, despite my efforts, but I remember by heart part of 
the Sofronov poem: 

The lathes of Rostov's Agricultural 
Machinery Plant were humming, 
The factory whistles were singing, 
And our great Party 
Seized the Trotskyists by the collar. 

I was seventeen at the time, 

I was far from maturity, 

I couldn't tell people apart, 

So my aim when hitting them was poor, 

Perhaps I sang more tunefully then, 
But I was not calm and brave; 
Feeling pity, I left some alive, 
Others I could not finish off . . . 

An absolutely astronomical number of jokes went around; 
Volodya Margulis hurried from one friend to another, telling 
them and hooting with laughter. Having exhausted his entire 
supply on me, he reported that Igor had said at a meeting in 
his college that August 10th was the result of the Party's wise 
policy, that the Decree reconfirmed the development of the 
creative initiative of the popular masses, and so on, and so 
on in the usual vein. 

"You know something, Tolya?" he said. "I knew Igor was a 
careerist and all that, but I didn't expect this of him." 

"Why not?" I asked. "What's so special about it? He was 
told to make a speech, and he did. If you were a Party mem- 
ber like Igor, you would have reeled one off, too." 

"Me? Never! First, I wouldn't join the Party for anything, 
and, second . . ." 

"First, second! Stop shouting! Are you really any better 
than Igor? Didn't you jabber about nationalism 2 at school 
during the Doctors' Plot?" 

2 The Zionist nationalism with which the Jewish doctors were charged 
in the notorious affair of 1952. 

272 ] Nikolai Arzak 

I said it, and was immediately sorry I had. It was a sore 
point with him. He couldn't forgive himself the fact that he 
had believed the newspapers for a while. 

"I'd rather hear how you're getting along with Nina," I 
said more amiably. "How long since you've seen her?" 

Volodya brightened up. 

"You know, Tolya, it's not easy to love," he said. "It's not 
easy. I called her yesterday and said I wanted to see her, but 
she answered . . ." 

And Volodya began describing in detail what she had 
answered, what he had said to her, and what they both said. 

"Tolya, you know me; I'm not the sentimental type, but I 
almost burst into tears. . . ." 

I listened to him and wondered how people manage to 
create problems out of nothing. Volodya was married and 
had two children. He taught literature in a school better than 
anyone in the area and was in every way a bright fellow. 
But oh, his love affairs! It's true his wife was a bitch; you'd 
leave a wife like that for any woman. Well, O.K., who cares 
how often he did it? But what was the point of all the suffer- 
ing, the transports of passion, and the small-town Hamlet 
act? And such expressions as "moral obligations," "divided 
loyalties," and "she believes in me" . . . Besides, "she be- 
lieves in me" is said both of his wife and the latest heart- 
throb. No, I look at all this much more simply. I don't need 
play-acting, diplomacy, or obligations to make it all honest. 
Do we like each other? Great. Do we want each other? Won- 
derful: what more do we want? What about adultery? Who 
cares? If I marry, I won't be worried by Volodya's kind of 
problems, I'll simply say in advance: "I'm married, you know, 
I don't intend to divorce, and I like you very much. Does 
that suit you? Great: where and when shall we meet? It 
doesn't suit you? Too bad; good-by; think it over . . ." 
That's what I'd do, though not quite so crudely. And I think 
that's much better than talking a lot of nonsense about in- 
compatibility between you and your wife, and saying, "Of 
course, I admire my wife, but ..." I have never yet really 


wronged a woman, and only because Tve never let them 
have any illusions about me. . . . 

Volodya talked for another half hour about his complicated 
love life and went away. I showed him out, but he imme- 
diately rang the bell again, put his head through the half- 
open door, and said in a whisper so the neighbors wouldn't 

"Tolya, if there is a Jewish pogrom on August tenth, I'm 
going to fight. This isn't going to be another Babi Yar 3 for 
them. I'll shoot the swine. Just wait and see!" And opening 
his jacket, he showed me the butt of an officer's pistol sticking 
out of his inside pocket; he had kept it since his army days. 

"They won't take me easily. . . ." 

When he had finally left, I stood for some time in the mid- 
dle of the room. 

Who were "they"? 


No, Alcinous, you are wrong: there 
is indeed infinity in nature, 
The stupidity and baseness of people 
are an illustration of it. 

— Cyril Zamoysky, "Experiments and 

"Tolya, you simply don't want to be serious about it! Just 
try to understand one simple thing . . ." 

My neighbor was soaping a dirty dish with a mop. His 
stomach, covered with gray hair, was tightly enmeshed by a 
net undershirt; it protruded from his pants and rested on the 
edge of the sink. He was terribly excited although I had not 
objected to a single word. 

". . . no, no, don't get me wrong! Although some people 
may be, I'm not an admirer of newspaper cliches. But facts 

3 Scene of Nazi massacre of Jews near Kiev in 1941. 

274 ] Nikolai Arzak 

are facts, and you've got to face them: public awareness 
has definitely increased! Ergo, the State has the right to con- 
duct an extensive experiment and hand over some of its func- 
tions to the people! After all, we have the voluntary militia 
squads, Komsomol patrols, people's voluntary police for the 
maintenance of public law and order! And that's a fact which 
means something. But obviously, even they make mistakes — 
lapses, you might call them — they've slashed the tight 
trousers of the dandies and girls have had their heads shaved, 
but that's bound to happen! 4 Production costs! You can't 
make an omelet without breaking eggs! And the Decree is 
nothing else but the logical continuation of a process already 
begun — the process of democratization. Democratization of 
what? Democratization of the organs of executive authority. 
But the ideal, and don't misunderstand me, is the gradual 
assumption of the executive authority by the masses, at the 
lowest level, so to speak. No, I don't mean lowest level, that 
wasn't right, we don't have any low levels. Well, you know 
what I mean . . . and believe me, an old lawyer, hundreds, 
thousands, tens of thousands of people have passed through 
my hands — believe me, the people will first and foremost 
settle the score with hoodlums, spongers, and the dregs of 
society . . ." 

I was hoping against hope he would drop the slippery 
plate, and he finally broke it against the sink. His wife came 
hurrying in, looked disapprovingly at the pieces and then at 
me, and said in an even voice : 

"Peter, go into our room." 

"That spell in the concentration camp didn't do that fool 
any good," I thought as he left, and I went off to answer the 

Zoya came in. 

We went through to my room, and Zoya, sighing with re- 

4 The formation of vigilante groups ( druzhiny ) who assist the ordinary 
militia to fight "hooliganism" is a notable feature of the post-Stalin era. 
There have been frequent cases of these groups molesting young people who 
dress in Western style. 


lief, threw off her shoes. I like to watch women taking off 
their shoes: the shape of the leg changes and immediately 
becomes intimate, domestic, and somehow unsophisticated. 

"It looks as if you're wearing white slippers," I said, point- 
ing to her untanned feet. "Show me where else you're still 

"I want to have a talk with you," she replied. "All right, 
then, later on . . ." 

I kissed her. 

"Lock the door," she said. 

. . . We lay side by side a little way from each other. 
Zoya's skin was cool, despite the heat; her lightly tanned body 
had three white bands around it — on her breasts, hips, and 
feet. She lay beside me, spread out freely and unashamedly, 
beautiful and resplendent like a clown at a circus, and I felt 
that I loved her very much. I wanted to wink just as freely 
and unashamedly at some imaginary observer and, perhaps, 
accomplice, and say to him: "You see, my friend, what kind 
of a woman I've got!" I lay there and wondered whether 
what was happening between us could be called "life" — 
struggle, conquest, mutual capitulation, acceptance and ve- 
hement rejection, a deep sense of oneself and complete loss 
of self alienation and union — all in one, all at the same time. 
And at that moment I didn't care that she was married, 
or that I was not the only one who possessed her clever, sub- 
missive, ever waiting flesh, or that she had a husband who 
caressed her on a legal basis, or that in a month's time my 
sister would be back from vacation and Zoya would no longer 
be able to come and see me, and that we would have to loiter 
in attics and doorways, like stray cats, or that I would again 
be surprised and even slightly shocked by her ability to give 
herself to me in the most unlikely places, and that I would 
be very grateful to her for it; but now I didn't care about any 
of that. I lay there and waited for her to speak. 

And she did. 

"Tolya," she said, "it will soon be Public Murder Day." 

She uttered these words very simply and in a business- 

276 ] Nikolai Arzak 

like way as though she had said: "It will soon be New Year's," 
or "It will soon be May Day/' 

"And what about it?" I asked. "What has that got to do 
with us?" 

"Aren't you fed up with hiding?" she asked. "Now we can 
change everything." 

"I don't understand," I murmured. But I was telling a lie, 
I understood perfectly. 

"Let's kill Paulie." 

That's what she said: "Paulie." Not my "husband," or 
"Paul," but "Paulie." I felt my lips stiffen. 

"Zoya, are you in your right mind? What are you saying?" 

Zoya slowly turned her head and rubbed her cheek against 
my shoulder. 

"Tolya dear, don't be upset. Just think calmly. After all, 
there won't be another chance. I've thought it all out. You 
can come to us the night before. You can say that you want to 
spend that day with us. Paulie and I haven't planned to go 
anywhere. And you and I can do it together. Then you can 
come and live with me and we'll get married. I wouldn't in- 
volve you in it, and would do it all by myself, except that 
I'm simply scared of not being able to carry it off." 

She talked, while I lay and listened, and every word seized 
me by the throat like a momentary spasm of choking. 

"Tolya, why don't you say something?" 

I coughed and said: 

"Get out." 

She didn't understand. 

"Where to?" 

"To hell," I said. 

Zoya stared at me for a few seconds, then got up and began 
to get dressed. She put on her brassiere, then her panties, and 
then her petticoat. I watched her disappear under the cloth- 
ing. She threw on her dress, pushed her feet into the shoes, 
and began arranging her hair. 

Having done so, she took her handbag and unlocked the 


door. On the threshold she turned around and said, not too 

And she left. I heard the front door click. 

I got up and dressed. I carefully rearranged the bedclothes. 
I swept up the room. I made a large number of movements, 
concentrating on each one. I wanted very much to avoid 


I hate them so much I have spasms, 

I scream and I tremble; oh, if only all these whores 

Could be collected and exterminated at once! 

— George Bolotin, "Trumpets of Time" 

Nevertheless I had to think. It may seem stupid, but what 
staggered me most of all was the word "sissy" which Zoya 
had hurled at me. I wasn't a coward; I had learned that much 
at the front, and once or twice since the war too. But Zoya 
had decided I was a coward. But it wasnt cowardice, it was 
simply unthinkable to take Paulie and kill him — uncomplain- 
ing, meek, unsuspecting Paulie. Yes, we had been deceiving 
him. If he'd known about our love affair he would have felt 
very bad, of course. We spent his money on drink, we 
laughed at him behind his back and to his face. That was 
true, but to kill him? Why? What for? After all, if things 
had reached that point, if it was only a question of marrying 
me, she could have divorced him. It meant ... it meant 
that murder was not simply a way of ridding oneself of an 
unloved, stupid, and elderly husband. It meant that murder 
had for her some meaning, incomprehensible to me. Perhaps 
she hated him and wanted to get even? Of course, she wanted 
to get even for falling in love with him at the age of nineteen, 
when all he could talk about was "the miracle of modern 
science" and other such banalities and tell Jewish and 
Armenian stories . . . She couldn't help hating him. And 

278 ] Nikolai Arzak 

once sTie did, of course, she might kill him. That much I un- 
derstand. Hatred gives one the right to murder. In hatred I 
might myself . . . mightn't I? Well, obviously, I might. I 
might definitely. Whom do I hate? Whom have I hated in 
my life? Well, schooldays don't count, but what about when 
I was grown up? College. I hated one of the teachers who 
purposely failed me four times in my exams. Well, to hell with 
him, that was a long time ago. The bosses of different de- 
partments in which I'd worked. Yes, they were crooks. They 
certainly made my blood boil. They should be punched in 
the face, the bastards. Who else? The writer K., 5 who writes 
novels in the spirit of the Black Hundreds. Yes, I remember I 
used to say that I'd kill him if I knew that nothing would hap- 
pen to me. That swine deserves to be taught a lesson! So that 
he'd never take up the pen again. . . . 

And what about the fat-faced masters of our destiny, our 
leaders and teachers, true sons of the people, receiving mes- 
sages of congratulation from collective farmers of the Ryazan 
region, from metal workers in the Krivoi Rog region, from 
the Emperor of Ethiopia, from a teachers' congress, from 
the President of the United States, from attendants in public 
toilets. The best friends of Soviet gymnasts, writers, textile 
workers, color-blind persons, and madmen? What should be 
done with them? Should they be forgiven? What about 1937? 
What about the postwar insanity when the country was 
possessed of the devil, thrashed about in the throes of a fit, 
and became hysterical and began devouring itself? Do they 
think that once they have desecrated the grave of the Mus- 
tached One, 6 that's all that's required of them? No, no, no, 
they must be treated differently. Do you remember still how 
to do it? The fuse. Pull out the pin. Throw. Lie flat on the 
ground. Lie down! It's exploded. And now, a leap forward. 
As you run, spray around you at belly level. A burst of 

5 This refers to Vsevolod Kochetov and his novel The Brothers Ershov. 
See Introduction, p. xxxii, and footnote 12, p. xxxvii. 

6 Stalin. The desecration of his grave is to be understood figuratively; the 
story was written before Stalin's body was removed from the Lenin Mauso- 


machine-gun fire! . . . They're lying over there — cut to 
shreds and riddled with bullets. It's slippery. One's legs slip. 
Who's this? He's crawling along, dragging his guts along the 
plaster-strewn floor behind him. And who's this man, be- 
decked with medals, who accompanies the Chief on trips? 
Why is he so thin? Why is he wearing a padded coat? I saw 
him once before, crawling along a grade, spilling his blue and 
red stomach into the dust. And these people? I've seen them! 
Only then they had on belts with the inscription "Gott mit 
tins" on the buckles, caps with red stars, knee boots; Russians, 
Germans, Georgians, Rumanians, Jews, Hungarians, pea- 
jackets, placards, medical corps, spades; over the body runs a 
Studebaker, two Studebakers, eight Studebakers, forty Stude- 
bakers, and you lie there flattened like a frog; we've had all 
that before! 

I got up from the bed, went to the window, and wiped my 
sweaty forehead with the curtain. Then I went into the 
kitchen, washed in the sink, and put on my jacket. I couldn't 
stay at home another moment. 

I went along the street, scorched by the August sun; com- 
ing toward me were housewives with net shopping bags; 
some boys were making a deafening buzz with their bicycles; 
sweaty old men were wandering along the sidewalk, stopping 
at every stall selling mineral water. I reached the corner of 
the Arbat and Smolensk Square and stopped. I felt like visit- 
ing someone. But who? It was summer and everybody was 
away at their dachas, and those who weren't were probably 
at the Silver Copse, 7 or somewhere else where they could 
swim. And I felt like a drink. I remembered that an artist 
friend of mine called Sasha Chuprov lived not too far along 
the road leading to the Kiev station. Even if he wasn't at 
home, I could still sit there for a while, since the door of his 
room was never locked. 

I stopped in at a large grocery store on the corner and 
wandered through, looking for the liquor section. I went up 

7 A riverside beach near Moscow. 

280 ] Nikolai Arzak 

to various counters and watched the salesgirls working. In 
their uniform they all looked the same, but they behaved 
differently — in a businesslike and correct way in the sausage 
section, apathetically and superciliously in the fruit and veg- 
etable section, coquettishly and subserviently in the candy 
section, and in a confused and disorderly way in the grocery 
section. In the liquor section, which I finally found, they 
were condescending and just a little familiar. I stood and 
gazed at the revolving stand with bottles, rising up in a cone 
beside a column. It was here that emotions were stored. 
Poured into different bottles and sealed with wax, they were 
given random labels such as "brandy," "vodka," and "Geor- 
gian wine;" but in actual fact the bottles were filled with mel- 
ancholy, gaiety, unbridled anger, charming gullibility, touch- 
iness, and bravery. The emotions were biding their time. In 
due course they would be released from their glass prisons; 
they would hear stupid farewell toasts and would run riot in 
hands clutching drunkenly at tablecloths; on lips feverishly 
kissing; in lungs taking in extra air so that they could sing 
"Moscow Nights" in the proper way. "Time is on our side," 
they were thinking as their many colors glimmered in the 
electric light. "Our cause is right, our day will come . . ." 

I bought a bottle of brandy (Georgian, as I didn't have 
enough for a better brand) and a lemon, and left the shop. 

Chuprov turned out to be at home. 

"So it's you, old pal," he said gloomily. "Come in . . ." 

The spacious light room was incredibly messy. 

An open sketchbook lay on the floor; there were rolls of 
paper on and underneath the table and on the windowsill. 
The owner himself, fully dressed, was rolling about on the 
bed, trying to rest his feet on the rail. 

"What's the matter?" I asked. 

"Those bastards," he answered. "I've worked and worked 
and it's all been a goddamn waste of time." 

"What have you been working on?" 

"You know what, posters." 


Chuprov painted left-wing 8 pictures and was known as be- 
ing avant-garde in liberal circles. But there was no one to 
whom he could sell his nonconformist canvases which were 
so tainted by the pernicious influence of the West. He 
was afraid to approach foreigners, and he had to eat, so he 
painted posters of girls with shining faces against a back- 
ground of the Kremlin walls; of miners in full underground 
regalia, marching confidently toward a bright future; of 
young engineers in overalls with calipers in their breast 
pockets and the History of the Communist Party under then- 
arms . He was paid well, though not very regularly. 

"Why, haven't they accepted your work?" I asked. "Didn't 
you have a contract?" 

The point was he didn't. He had thought there'd be no 
other posters for them to choose from and so had decided to 
take a risk for the occasion. He had painted a nonconformist 
poster, in his own free manner. "Can you imagine? I took it 
to them, and there . . ." 

"Wait a minute, for what occasion?" 

"Where have you been all this time? For Public Murder 
Day. I don't suppose they'll manage without posters. Any- 
way, listen and don't interrupt. So I took it along. And the 
chief, that bureaucrat — he's one of the old school — says to 
me: 'Chuprov, you've come to the wrong place. This kind of 
stuff may be all right for Life, 9 but it's no good to us.' And he 
went on and on about 'events in the life of our country . . . 
the Party is showing us the way . . . great ideas require ef- 
ficient implementation ... so as to inspire . . .' Then he 
said: 'Look at this' . . . and he showed me a poster by Ar- 
temev and Kranz. And you should have seen it, old pal! And 
I'm not saying this because he rejected my poster and took 
theirs. You know what I think of such work. For me it means 
bread and that's all. But after all, there's a limit! If you do it, 
do it properly, no potboilers! But those jerks had drawn some 

8 See Introduction, footnote 12, p. xxxvii. 

9 The American magazine. 

282 ] Nikolai Arzak 

kind of stuffed dummies — you couldn't tell whether they 
were dead or alive, with a tower crane in the background and 
that's all. And that's what's called a colorful poster! Well, 
anyway, I don't give a damn for their money; I managed to 
get enough over the May Day holiday, but I'm sorry for the 
sake of the work put into it for the idea! When will they ever 
understand that it's now the middle of the twentieth cen- 
tury and that art must progress at a new . . . er . . . er . . . 
new tempo, mustn't it?" 

Chuprov fired all this off in one salvo and then swore ob- 
scenely. The ash of his cigarette broke off and fell onto the 

"Listen, Sasha," I said cautiously, "what about this rejected 
poster of yours? . . . May I have a look at it?" 

"I suppose so. Take a look. It's over there by the wall." 

I cleared a space on the floor and unrolled the poster. 

Against the background of a rising or maybe a setting sun 
stood the conventional boy and girl; the sun was behind them 
and their red shadows lay across the poster; in the bottom 
left-hand corner the shadows merged with a red-black pud- 
dle lapping against the corner of a conventional house; in the 
bottom right-hand corner lay a body with arms outstretched 
and one knee drawn up. 

"Well, how do you like it?" asked Sasha. 

I thought for a moment and then said: 

"There's lots of expression in it." 

I was risking nothing: I knew for certain that Sasha had 
never read Huxley. 

"Really?" Sasha was radiant. 

"Yes," I continued, "but I think the corpse is too garish." 

Sasha jumped up from the bed and sticking out his lip, 
looked at his work. 

"You're probably right, old pal," he said. "And do you 
know why it is? I ought to have done it in a more conven- 
tional way, not quite so realistically, not quite so true-to-life, 
don't you think? . . ." 

We drank the brandy. Sasha told me about his plans and I 


listened and thought how Zoya was responsible for it all and 
if it hadn't been for her I wouldn't have given the cursed 
Public Murder Day a thought. Why should it concern me? 
Damn the Day . . . and Zoya was a bitch. Paul should be 
told. No, that wasn't necessary now. Now that I had given 
her up, she would be afraid. She was a bitch, a murderer. 
Everything had been so nice, we had enjoyed it so much, but 
now I would never touch her again. And she wouldn't give 
herself to me, anyway. It was because of her that I had to 
sit there and listen to the drunken Chuprov pouring out his 
heart. Nonconformist! Avant-garde! If tomorrow they an- 
nounce a "Queers' Day," he'll reach for his brush and paint 
a graph of the rise in homosexuality since 1913. I don't want 
to kill anyone any more. I don't want to! 

"What don't you want?" asked Chuprov. 

"I don't want to drink any more." 

"There isn't any more to drink. And why don't you want to 
drink? It's the right moment. Wait a minute, I'll run down 
and get a bottle . . . or I know what. If you like, I'll intro- 
duce you to a friend, an old man. My, what an old man! He 
writes poetry. Let's go; you'll be grateful to me. You've never 
seen anyone like him." 
Lets go. 

I got up, feeling sick. 

"Let's go, Sasha! Let's go, Alexander Chuprov! Let's go, 
you genius of an artist! Is the old man also a genius? Will he 
explain everything?" 

"Everything! He can explain everything — he's a waiter!" 

They lie in wait in any doorway, 

They exude a smell of carbolic acid, 

They're in the grass springing up from the earth, 

In old books, dozing on the shelf. 

Everywhere you can hear a deadened whisper, 

And any phrase conceals a wicked end. 

284 ] Nikolai Arzak 

They're in the water flowing in the shower, 
And in the hoarse gurgling of the toilet bowl. 

— George Bolotin, "Devils of Death" 

While we were buying the vodka, trying to find a taxi, and 
driving somewhere near the Danilov market, I managed to 
sober up a bit. "Why and where am I going?" I wondered. 
"What the hell's this old boy to me? Well, anyway . . ." 
Anyway, I had to get through Sunday somehow or other. So 
why not with this old boy? Things were really great: I'd 
parted from my woman. I'd separated from my mistress. I'd 
quarreled with my girl friend. So why not with an old man? 

Sasha stopped the cab and paid the fare. 

"You sit here for a moment and I'll go and find out whether 
we can see him. I won't be a second. . . ." 

I sat down on a bench and lit a cigarette. The streetcars 
were clanking behind me. Young fathers were wheeling baby 
carriages along the side streets. Freshly scoured soldiers were 
strolling along with girls, conversing with decorum and not 
yet allowing their hands to wander — it was still light. I raised 
my eyes. 

New eight- or ten-story apartment houses stood in open- 
ordered ranks, parallel to the boulevard; their light brick 
faces with clear eyes looked benevolently and encouragingly 
at the young greenery of the gardens. But the old buildings 
of the thirties stared hard between the gaps in this showy op- 
timism with gloomy awareness of their own superiority. With 
their corners facing the boulevard in wedge-shaped forma- 
tion, they advanced from the depths of the courtyards with- 
out really budging an inch. There was such confidence in 
their righteousness and such unshakable faith in an idea that 
it seemed that had the Architect 10 who created them risen 
from his grave and pointed with his finger, these gray wedges 
would have moved forward, sweeping the showy new card- 
board buildings from their path. They would have leveled to 

™ Stalin. 


the sidewalk all the self-service elevators, the Finnish-style 
furniture, the volumes of Hemingway, and all the fashionable 
people secretly thumbing their noses. 

Chuprov suddenly appeared beside me as though he had 
sprung out of the ground. 

"Come on," he said, "the maestro's at home." 

I followed him, bumping against the bottles stuffed into 
his jacket pockets. 

We were met by a little old man with twitching eyebrows 
in a spick-and-span one-room apartment. Over his knitted 
track pants he was wearing a pair of old-fashioned pajamas 
tied with cords, resembling a guardsman's tunic; from under 
the pajamas peeped a black shirt with big white buttons like 
the stops of an accordion. 

"Very pleased to meet you," he said. "Please come in, sit 
down, and excuse the disorder. I lead the life of a bachelor 
as my wife likes to spend her time at the dacha." 

We went into a large, long room. The furniture was new 
and the tablecloth on the solid round table was carefully 
covered with transparent plastic; on the divan lay pillows, 
ranging, like peas in a pod, from large to small. One wall was 
completely covered by a gray curtain. 

"My friend Tolya is very interested in your poetry," said 
Chuprov. "Would you read some to us?" 

"Don't be so eager, Sasha. You're always in a hurry, always 
rushing somewhere. And may I ask where? Everything takes 
its time. Don't speed up time, which is flying anyway. You 
will manage. Let me just have a drink with your friend Tolya, 
talk about one or two things, and we will put out our feelers, 
like ants. We can look at the poetry later — it's right here. 
'Verse is good for the digestion,' as a very old friend of mine 
used to say. What do you think, Anatole, do you agree with 



"Don't call him Anatole, call him Tolya!" 

"No, my dear Sasha, I cannot. This is the first time I have 
met the young man. I accept everything that happens today, 
I welcome everything, and, as they say, I congratulate them, 

286 ] Nikolai Arzak 

but I cannot agree with this new-fangled custom. IVe been 
called Gennadi Vasilevich since I was fifteen. And rightly so! 
For when you address a man respectfully, it exalts him and 
elevates him, so to speak, above the sinful earth. Don't you 
think so, Anatole Nikolaevich?" 

"Call me anything you like," I said. "Sticks and stones will 
break my bones . . ." 

" . . but names will never hurt me," said the old man, 
finishing the saying. While he talked, he was laying the table 
rapidly and neatly. Wineglasses, forks, plates, some radishes, 
pickles, sliced bread, and sausage appeared on the table as 
though by magic. And his words — rounded, cozy and old- 
fashioned, like forks with bone handles — came just as rap- 
idly. He poured out the vodka and we had a drink. 

"You are quite right about the sticks and stones, Anatole 
Nikolaevich. The opposite is also observed, incidentally. 
Some people are just dying to call others names and use the 
sticks and stones as well. . . ." 

"People are like wild beasts," said Chuprov gloomily. He 
had evidently remembered the rejected poster. 

"There's no point in speaking disparagingly about wild 
beasts, Sasha. Haven't you noticed what people like talking 
about most when they're in a good mood? Wild animals and 
their young. And why? Because everyone likes them. People 
argue about everything, about books, let's say, or pictures or 
statues, and obviously about politics. But they never argue 
about wild animals. This spring I read an article in a maga- 
zine about zoos in different countries. It was written by the 
director of the Moscow Zoo. You may wonder why I would 
be interested in the fact that a tapir was born in Italy? 
But I read about it and I was delighted. And everyone's like 
that. Wild animals will soon be the only link, the only point 
of contact between people. Wild beasts, my young friends, 
are not simply animals, they are the bearers and keepers of 
the spiritual essence!" 

These remarks were so out of character with what had 
gone before that I couldn't help raising my head from the 


plate. The old man observed this and stopped speaking. 
Sasha immediately broke into the pause: 

"Let's drink to the tapir! Hoorahr 

We drank several shots in succession. The old man soon 
became drunk, and the more drunk he became, the purer and 
more cultured his speech became. Crossing his legs and look- 
ing first at Sasha and then at me, he said quickly and very 
clearly, lowering his voice: 

"None of us knows what is hidden in the other's heart. For 
example, the frank conversation you and I are having is 
nothing but an insane, suicidal divestment of our clothes. But 
if you take off your clothes in the street in the literal sense of 
the words, youll be taken to the local precinct, fined, pub- 
lically censured, and that's all! But candor and the taking off 
of one's spiritual clothes is impermissible! Who knows, some 
of my words or one of my ideas may sting you in your most 
sacred, most tender spot and burrow in so deeply that the 
poisonous splinter can only be pulled out at the expense of 
my life! So you will be longing to kill me and to save yourself! 
Who and what can prevent you or any other person, for that 
matter? Which of us knows how much hostility is felt by an- 
other toward us? And what causes it? An ill-chosen word, the 
way you eat, the shape of your nose. By the way," he turned 
to me, "are you Jewish?" 

"No," I replied, feeling my nose. "Why, do I look it?" 

"Yes, a bit. Now, those Jews are a wise people. They live in 
fear. And not in fear of God, but fear of man. They regard 
everyone as a potential enemy. And rightly so. What can be 
more terrible than man? A wild animal kills in order to satisfy 
his hunger. It doesn't give a damn for ambition, for the lust 
for power, or for seeking a career. It isn't given to envy! But 
take us : can we know who is thirsting for our blood, or whom 
we have offended without knowing it? Offended by our very 
existence? We know nothing. . . ." 

"Wild animals fight to the death over the female," said 

Gennadi Vasilevich frowned: 

288 ] Nikolai Arzak 

"That's a different matter. That's the instinct of procrea- 
tion. Wild animals have wisdom and simplicity; they do not 
fall in love. But take man . . . man has only to fall in love 
and he's ready to commit any base act, any crime. It wasn't 
for nothing that the Romans used to say femina mors anime 
— woman is death to the soul. But I'm not talking about that. 
I ask you, Sasha, and you, Anatole, are you certain that there 
are not people among your acquaintances and friends who 
might kill you? As for me, I'll say that I don't intend to! But 
death . . . You are young and haven't thought about it, but 
I'm an old man. I lie here at night on this divan — look at it, 
it has a wooden back — twisting from side to side, knocking 
the wood with my elbow and thinking 'That's how it'll be in 
the coffin — wood on both sides, wood on top, wood . . ."' 

He drew a breath; his head was shaking very slightly. 

"Nothing can be foreseen. Nothing helps, neither caution, 
nor solitude — nothing! And yet they waste their time argu- 
ing, reasoning, fussing about . . ." 

"Who's they?" I asked. 

"Those . . . ignorant fools," answered the old man in a 
tired voice. 

He got up, staggering, and pulled back the gray curtain 
revealing bookshelves along the entire wall. Gaudy writers 
bound in brightly colored calico burst into the room like the 
Tartar horde, tearing the semblance of security and the de- 
ceptive tranquility of middle-class comfort to shreds. With 
the horde came the squeaking, cumbersome carts of philo- 
sophical systems, the curved mirrorlike sabers of self-analy- 
sis, the blunt battering rams of universal pessimism, the stal- 
lions of civilization with the yellow froth of misanthropy on 
their bared teeth, trampling to bits, to a pulp, into a pancake, 
the gray-bearded evangelists who hold their commandments 
up to an apathetic heaven as they decompose into atomic 
dust. . . . 

"People are ready to drown each other in a spoonful of 
water," sighed Chuprov, pouring out the remains of the 


. . . Chuprov and I walked along the empty streets. At the 
crossroads stood solitary policemen on duty. The neon signs 
of grocery stores shone bright, and our heels tapped sharply 
and sonorously along the sidewalk, but even that sound, 
which I normally like so much, didn't please me. Public Mur- 
der Day was exactly a week away. 

Revolt — you wouldn't dare: 

Run away — you couldn't if you tried, 

And it's all the same thing, anyway; 

What would be the soldier's lot — inglorious death 

Or undying glory . . . 

—George Bolotin, "The Halt" 

I stopped going to work. I called up the editorial office and 
said I was sick. I lay on the bed, or wandered about the room 
and spent hours drawing faces on the wrapping paper in 
which some sausage had been delivered. 

The only person who came to see me during all this time 
was Volodya Margulis; he kept asking me an idiotic question, 
as soon as he arrived: "But, do they expect to gain from this 
Decree ?" "They" was the government. I kept silent while 
Volodya, who was glad that I had no personal opinion, began 
explaining to me that the whole weird business was not only 
inevitable but lay at the very basis of socialist teachings. 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Well, of course it does. It's all quite correct: they have to 
legalize murder and make it a commonplace occurrence, so 
that's why they're not explaining anything. Before, they used 
to explain things and spread propaganda." 

"You're talking nonsense! When was that?" 

"During the Revolution." 

"You're wrong there. The Revolution was neither made 
that way nor for that purpose." 

"What about 1937? It was the same thing. Complete free- 
dom of extermination. Only at that time there were trim- 

290 ] Nikolai Arzak 

mings to go with it, while this time there's nothing. Kill and 
that's all! And anyway, at that time there was a complete ap- 
paratus with tremendous personnel at the service of the mur- 
derers. Now you do it yourself. Self-service." 

"Oh, dry up, Volodya! Your anti-Soviet monologues have 
stopped being funny." 

"What's wrong; are you taking the side of the Soviet re- 
gime? Do you think that you ought to stand up for it?" 

"For a real Soviet regime, of course I ought to." 

"You mean one without communists? Like in Sholokhov's 
And Quiet flows the Don?" 

"Go to hell!" 

"That's a very convincing answer!" said Volodya sarcas- 
tically. "And you . . ." 

"That's enough," I said. 

We lapsed into silence, and he went off in a huff. 

I lay down on the bed again and began thinking. The rea- 
son the Decree had been announced just didn't concern me. 
There was no point in looking for scientific justification and 
jabbering about the Revolution. I don't like doing that. My 
father was a commissar in the Civil War and I think he knew 
what he was fighting for. I don't remember him very well — 
he was taken away in 1936, one of the first, but after my 
mother's death I found his letters. I read them and I don't 
think that people of my generation have any right to talk 
loosely of those times. We can and must each decide for 
himself. That's all that is left for us, all that we are in a posi- 
tion to do, but it's quite enough. Too much, in fact. 

Arbatov, the old poet from Danilov Boulevard, had irri- 
tated me. I not only didn't want to, but couldn't kill anyone! 
But others might want to and might be able to. And their 
victim might be me, Anatole Kartsev! Just as on the day of 
my last meeting with Zoya, I again thought about my ene- 
mies. That one couldn't. That one might want to, but would 
be afraid. That one might try with a stone or a brick from 
around the corner. Who else, who else was there? No, that 
one wasn't an enemy of mine. Not an enemy? How did I 


know? Perhaps he was! And anyway, why should my enemies 
be the only ones who might kill me? Any passer-by, any 
drunk or crazy fool might shoot me in the face just to see me 
thrash my legs about in agony. Spilling my life onto the side- 
walk. My nose getting sharper, cheeks hollowing, and jaw 
dropping. My eyes coming through the hole in my skull, my 
arms, my words, my silence, my sea, my sand, my women, 
my clumsy poetry . . . 

Damn it! To hell with it! I can't let them kill me. I must 
go on living. I will hide, barricade myself in; I'll spend the 
day at home. I don't want to die. I don't want to! Never speak 
evil of the living. 

Stop! I must get a grip on myself. I must calm down. I'll 
buy some food the night before and won't go out at all on 
Sunday. I'll lie on my bed and read Anatole France. I like 
Anatole France very much. Penguin Island, Revolt of the 
Angels. There's also "Anatole France in a Dressing Gown." 
Whenever I spent the night with Zoya, she used to make me 
put on Paul's dressing gown and was terribly amused. At that 
time I didn't know why it pleased her so much, but I do now. 
She was imagining that she had become a widow and mar- 
ried me. I wonder how she intended to kill Paul? She was 
going to stay home on Sunday. The neighbors would also be 
there. Of course, people might break into the apartment. The 
front door would have to be secured. I would steal a crowbar 
from a building site nearby and bar the door. Hit them on the 
head with the crowbar. If they broke in, I would hit them 
with the crowbar like dogs. I was recently at a dog show. I 
very much liked the Borzois with their long narrow heads 
like dueling pistols. Would I be able to fight a duel? Pushkin's 
bullet hit one of D'Anthes' buttons. If I go out on Sunday, 
I'll have to put a cigarette case in the inside pocket of my 
jacket on the left where the heart is. On the Left Where the 
Heart Is is a novel by Leongrad Frank, a very boring one. But 
Bruno Frank is quite different; he wrote a book about Cer- 
vantes. And what would Don Quixote have done on August 
10th? He would have ridden to Moscow on his Rosinante and 

292 ] Nikolai Arzak 

interceded for everyone. On his own personal Rosinante. An 
eccentric with a copper bowl on his head, he would have rid- 
den across Red Square, ready to break his lance in the name 
of the Beautiful Lady, in the name of Russia. On the Moscow 
streets of 1960 the poor knight would have sought his friend 
and fellow thinker — the Ukrainian boy who had once sung of 
Granada. But the marks of the lances are now covered over 
with cobblestones, and the holes made in the ground by the 
staffs of regimental banners are filled with asphalt. He would 
not find anyone, this visionary from La Mancha, no one! That 
much I know for certain. Who are the people who would fol- 
low Don Quixote? Margulis? Igor? No, no; if they fight at all, 
it's only for themselves. Each fights for himself, each decides 
for himself. Wait a moment, who was it said recently: "We 
must each decide for himselfr Yes, it was me who said it; 
why have I taken it on myself to judge others? Are they bet- 
ter than I? Am I better than they? 

I jumped up from the bed and looked with disgust at the 
pillow still indented from my head. Was it me who had been 
lying there? Was it me who had wanted to stock up with 
grub and bar the door? Was it me shaking like jelly in fear 
of my precious skin? Was it me who nearly dirtied his pants 
with fright? So what good am I, me with my splendid passion 
for unmasking and despising others, with my stinking detach- 
ment? Pontius Pilate, betraying his own soul every day — 
what good am I? 

Yes, everyone answers for himself. But for himself, and not 
for the person other people want to make you. I answer for 
myself, and not for a potential self-seeker, police spy, chau- 
vinist, or coward. I cannot let them kill me and thereby save 
their own lives. 

Wait, though: what shall I do? I'll go out into the street 
tomorrow and shout: "Citizens, don't kill each other! Love 
your neighbor!" and what will that bring? Whom will I help? 
Whom will I save? I don't know, I don't know at all. ... I 
may perhaps save myself, if it's not too late. 


Stay here! Where are you going? 

In senseless gloom, in blind fury — 

Aren't the angels skimming over the heads 

Of the howling crowd; 

Haven't thousands of reptiles crept from the bogs, 

Having forgotten the power of terrestial laws; 

They hiss with huge gaping mouths, 

And mothers have miscarriages. 

Stay here! Life itself has summoned you 

By the heralds of those who are herded here, on earth. 

Drink it in, take your fill of inspiration 

From the meaninglessness of the Day of Judgment! 

—George Bolotov, "To You, Poets!" 

On August 10 I got up at eight o'clock. I shaved, had 
breakfast, and read a little. No matter what I started doing, 
I kept thinking that I ought to go out of the house because of 
the loudspeakers blaring stirring marches outside, and the 
cats sauntering in zigzags across the roadway, delighted by 
the sudden dearth of people, and also the fact that my neigh- 
bors didn't go to the kitchen or the toilet, but did everything 
in their own rooms. 

At about eleven o'clock I got dressed, put the cigarette 
case in my inside pocket as I had planned, and went out onto 
the landing. 

I walked down the stairs slowly and noiselessly, so that 
when I bumped into my neighbor from the third floor on a 
landing, it was a surprise for both of us. She gave a scream; 
her net shopping bag full of bottles flew aside and hit against 
the banister. There was a sound of breaking glass and yogurt 
poured out onto the landing through the mesh of the bag. 
The woman slipped in a thick pool of yogurt and sat down 
heavily on the stairs with a gasp. I ran to help her. Then she 
let out a second scream and closing her eyes, feebly began 
pushing me away with trembling hands. 

294 ] Nikolai Arzak 

"Tolya, Tolya," she burbled. "I used to hold you ... in 
my arms . . . when you were small . . . Your mother . . . 
Tolya! . . ." 

"Anna Filippovna, what's the matter? There's broken glass 
here, you'll cut yourself!" 

She opened her eyes, and slowly raised her leaden face 
toward me. 

"Tolya," she said, "I . . . I . . . thought ... I bought 
the yogurt for my granddaughter . . . Oh, Tolya!" 

And she burst into tears. Her heavy, swollen sixty-year-old 
body shook. I helped her up and picked up the bag. 

"Zina is sick and Boris is away on a business trip, that's why 
I went to get the yogurt. . . ." 

Zina, her daughter, who had been in the same class at 
school as me, came running down from the third floor in an 
unfastened dressing gown. 

"Mamma! What's the matter? What have they done? 

"Nothing, Zina, nothing. I fell down. . . ." 

"But I told you . . ." began Zina. 

"Zina, take your mother home and I'll go for the yogurt." 

I took the long, yogurt-soaked loaves of bread out of the 
bag and gave them to Zina. 

"Tolya, what about the money?" 

When I had cleaned up the yogurt and gone into the street 
again, it was even hotter, as steamy as before a storm, and I 
carried my jacket on my arm, forgetting about the protective 
cigarette case. I felt very upset; I kept seeing the cadaverous 
face of the woman from the third floor and hearing her inco- 
herent and desperate babbling: "Tolya, Tolya . . ." 

I went along Nikitsky Boulevard. It was the same as ever 
— cheerful, neat, and tidy, and covered with the tiny shad- 
ows of leaves, like a dappled horse. Except that today there 
were no children. Teen-age boys, in shirts with rolled-up 
sleeves, lounged on benches, spitting over their shoulders 
onto the grass, and an elderly man was going down the path 
through the middle, arrogantly sticking out his chin and lead- 
ing an enormous unmuzzled dog on a leash. 


When I reached Arbat Square, I saw people running. They 
were hurrying somewhere behind the old subway station, but 
I couldn't see exactly where; the movie theater was in the 
way. I ran across the street and pushed through the crowd. 

On the ground a man lay with his head to the wall. He was 
in the same position as the corpse depicted in Sasha Chu- 
prov's poster: he was lying slumped to the side, with one leg 
bent at the knee and his arms spread out. A red stain had 
spread over his shirt, a white one, from Vietnam; I have one 
too — my sister bought it for me in the spring. He was abso- 
lutely motionless and the sun was reflected in the narrow 
toes of his fashionable shoes. Somehow I didn't realize at first 
that the man was dead, but when I did, a chill ran down my 
spine. But it wasn't the murder, or death, which shocked me, 
but this almost mystic realization of Chuprov's wild vision. 
Why was he lying in exactly the same position? His head was 
almost resting against the frame of an ad which showed a 
dashing black-and-white dancer announcing a ten-day exhi- 
bition of Ossetian art and literature. Next to it hung a tattered 
Polytechnic Museum notice: "G. S. Gornfeld, Economist, will 
give a lecture on 'Planning and Organization of Labor in In- 
dustry . . .' The rest was torn off. 

The onlookers were quietly exchanging comments: 

"He's only a kid." 

"Perhaps he's still alive?" 

"Of course not! He's dead. I held a mirror to his mouth, 
this one from my bag." 

"But who did it?" 

"The woman selling flowers says that a tall, tanned fellow 
came up to him and shot him. He called to him, and when 
the boy turned around, he shot him." 

"Who turned around?" 

"Heavens, the dead boy, of course." 

"And would you believe it, not a militiaman in sight!" 

"They're always around when they're not needed." 

"Wait a minute, mister, what has the militia got to do with 

296 ] Nikolai Arzak 

"What do you mean? A man has been killed!" 

"So what?" 

"God, you young fool! A man has been killed, I tell you!" 

"Go easy, mister. Who you kidding? Don't you read the 
papers? Today it's allowed!" 

"Don't raise your voice, young man, in the presence of the 
dead. Newspapers are newspapers, but there's such a thing 
as conscience." 

"You're holding the wrong end of the stick, mister. Do you 
think that conscience and a government decree are two dif- 
ferent things? If I were you, I'd stop that kind of talk!" 

"You'd better get out of here, young man, before I bash 
your head in." 

"He's really got some fight in him, that old man!" 

"We ought to chase the flies off the body, it looks bad." 

"All this means, folks, is that a hoodlum can go and do 
someone in like this and nothing will happen to him!" 

"You should read the papers, lady. They say: 'Free extermi- 
nation.' Don't worry. They'll kill the ones that deserve it, and 
that's all." 

"And who deserves it?" 

"They know over there who deserves it. They don't issue 
decrees for nothing." 

"His clothes may be stolen. His shoes . . ." 

"Looting is forbidden. This is a government matter." 

I pushed my way out of the crowd and went away. 

I don't remember now where I wandered, how many 
streets and squares I walked through, or how I reached the 
Red Square. 

I went right up to the Lenin- Stalin Mausoleum. 

The bulging, rectangular, boxlike square was filled right 
up to the roofs and domes with the dense and palpable ven- 
eration of many centuries. The bare concrete rows of parallel 
grandstands, the three-tiered cubes of the tomb, the right 
angles of the low parapet, the wall with its unsophisticated 
double-toothed battlements — this whole pattern which was 


familiar to me and loved by me from childhood, from the 
cradle, immutable and uncompromising, like a drawing in a 
geometrical theorem, suddenly impinged upon my mind, 
heart, and soul. We are given: an idea; we are asked to prove: 
the implementation. And the geometricians, hardened by 
their zeal, keep drawing and drawing, resting the paper on 
the backs of people bowed before them, keep on drawing 
and do not notice, or do not want to notice, that the paper is 
torn, that the pencil is broken, that it has turned into a 
scourge that makes furrows in the skin and the flesh! Stop! 
We cannot go on, we cannot pay this price! They are people, 
after all. He did not want it — he who was the first to lie 
behind these marble walls! . . . 

Someone pushed me over. I fell, and before I could get up 
again a man had thrown himself on top of me. He gripped me 
by the throat, but I jerked back my head and freed my neck. 
We rolled about, hitting our heads against the cobblestones, 
clinging to each other and vainly trying to get a hold on the 
slippery, recently washed stone with our feet. I glimpsed the 
blue sky, the vivid colors of St. Basil's Cathedral, the red mar- 
ble of the tomb, and two motionless statues with rifles, guard- 
ing the corpses. We rolled over to the feet of the sentries, 
where I was finally able to push him away by thrusting my 
knee in his stomach. He let go and I jumped up, stumbled, 
and stepped on a sentry's foot. My adversary also jumped up 
and I punched him in the jaw, once and then once more. He 
fell down again, crawled a little, tried to get up, but his arms 
were too weak and he sat sprawled against the Mausoleum. 
Spitting blood, he rasped: 

"Go on, then, kill me!" 

I picked up my jacket lying on the parapet and said, 
breathing hard: 

"You son of a bitch . . ." 

He replied: "It was for the Motherland . . ." 

I glanced around at the sentries. They were standing just 
as motionless as three minutes before, except that one of 

298 ] Nikolai Arzdk 

them, squinting downward, was staring at the dusty mark 
left by my heel on his polished boot. . . . 
I went home. 


The Lord offended a shell: 
He took a prickly grain of sand 
and hurled it 
Into its defenseless mouth. 

And if Something comes into your house, 
Where is the refuge from evil? 
And a pearl grew there 
Like a white globule, like a 
transparent grain. 

—Richard O'Hara, "The Lagoon" 

I celebrated the anniversary of the October Revolution in 
the same company. After long discussion it was decided to 
get together at Zoya and Paul's place; they had a separate 
two-room apartment, a tape recorder with recordings of Ver- 
tinsky and Leshchenko, 11 and lots of spare plates — in other 
words, the women decided it would be best to go there. 

When I was told the party was going to be held at their 
place, I decided I wouldn't go, but then . . . then I thought: 
"Why the hell shouldn't I, after all? They are my friends, the 
food there is good, and as to what I know about Zoya . . . 
we can pretend that I don't know anything." 

I wasn't quite certain if Zoya cared whether or not I went, 
so I told Lilya that I still didn't know if I was going out at all 
that day, that I wasn't in a very good mood and that Zoya 
should call me the night before — by then, I would know for 

II Emigre Russian singers. Vertinsky voluntarily returned to the Soviet 
Union after World War II. Leshchenko was evidently deported from 
Bucharest to the Soviet Union in about 1948; his fate is unknown. Foreign 
recordings of Leshchenko, smuggled in by returning Red Army soldiers, 
circulated widely in the postwar years. 


certain. In my own mind I had decided what I would say and 
do during the conversation. 

And Zoya telephoned me. 

She greeted me as though nothing had happened, asked 
about my health, and whether I planned to come. She talked 
to me and I answered her and heard her breathe into the 
mouthpiece of the telephone. She said: 

"Please come, Tolya. I very much want you to. I'll expect 
you. If you don't come, you'll spoil my holiday." 

I said into the phone: 

"If I come, Zoya, I won't come alone." 

"Who will you be with?" 

"You don't know her," I said. 

Zoya paused for a fraction of a second and then said: 

"Well, of course, come with anyone you want, you know 
we'll all be glad to meet your friends." 

And we hung up. 

"You don't know her," I said. That was the honest truth: 
I didn't know myself whom I was thinking of. 

In my mind I went through all the women I knew, the 
unmarried ones, naturally. There were quite a few of them, 
but the trouble was that they might interpret the invitation 
in quite the wrong way; and I didn't have the slightest 
desire to get involved in any new affairs. Perhaps I ought 
to go alone? Then I suddenly felt childishly spiteful and de- 
cided that at all costs I must prove to Zoya that I didn't give 
a damn about her. I decided to call Svetlana. She worked as 
an artist in our publishing house. She was twenty-three, very 
pretty, obviously interested in me, and unassuming enough 
not to get any wild ideas. She was very pleased when I 
invited her, but then became coy, and said she would feel 
awkward as she didn't know anyone and she "just wasn't 
sure . . ." 

"Nonsense, Svetlana," I said. "They're all very nice people, 
as long as you're not worried by their getting tight and sing- 
ing rude songs, and perhaps using swear words. . . . Any- 

300 ] Nikolai Arzdk 

way, 111 wait for you tomorrow at nine-thirty at the corner 
of Stoleshinkov Street, where the bookshop is." 

When we arrived they had all been at the table for some 
time. The bottles were a third empty, the men had taken 
off their coats, and someone was already dying to sing. But 
the festive atmosphere had not yet been spoiled. Cigarette 
butts were not yet sticking up from the plates and people 
were still drinking out of their own wineglasses. 

When we walked in they all began to chatter loudly and 
happily, and looked hard at Svetlana. 

"This is Svetlana," I said. "I hope you'll be good friends/' 

"Svetlana, dear, come over here," crooned Lilya. "These 
men have got completely out of hand; they eat and drink and 
pay no attention to us. But we can't do without them, can 

"You can't do without us!" Paul roared with laughter. 

"Svetlana, here's your glass," Igor poured her some dry 
wine. "Maybe you'd like some brandy? I won't dare offer 
you vodka." 

"No. No thank you, really not," said Svetlana with a rather 
forced smile. 

"Tolya, where have you been; why haven't you been to 
see us? Misha keeps asking 'Where's Uncle Tolya? When is 
he coming to see us?'" Emma, Volodya's wife, rested her 
bosom on the table and rounded her mouth and eyes, imitat- 
ing her son. As always, she was dressed loudly and without 

"You all right?" Zoya handed me a glass of vodka. 

"All right," I answered. 

"Good health! Good health, you late-comers!" Paul leaned 
across the table to clink glasses with me. "I was afraid that 
you wouldn't come. Zoya and I . . ." 

"Paulie, you're spilling your drink." 

"Sorry, my dear . . . Zoya and I . . ." 

"Paul, pass the salad, please." 


"Zoya and I . . . Why don't you let me finish what I'm 

"I just wanted to ask you to pour me some wine too." 

The noise was increasing. There was now no longer any 
general conversation. Igor was flirting with Svetlana for all 
he was worth; Lilya, jumping up from her chair, now had 
her arm around a tall young man whom everybody called 
"Yura the geologist"; Volodya was already reading out some 
verse by a fashionable young poet, bad verse with sloppy 
rhymes like dangling shoelaces. He was being baited by a 
sharp-nosed girl, who called out that the poet was a hack 
and that his poetry was worthless. 

"A hack, maybe, but what about his civic courage?" 
shouted Volodya. "Worthless, maybe, but Komsomol Pravda 
attacks him!" 12 

Everyone was having fun. Paul started to set up the tape 
recorder. Emma was eating her salad. Yura the geologist 
was saying: "We're so unused to mayonnaise." I drank down 
three glasses and for some reason got mad. 

"Listen, friends," I said, shouting above the din of the 
party, "You know how I love you all dearly!" 



"It's terribly stupid of us to get together so seldom," I con- 
tinued. "When was the last time we met?" 

"The last time?" 

"Yes, indeed, when was it?" 

"I know!" shouted Lilya. "The last time we met was at 
our dacJia! When they announced Public Murder Day!" 

Everyone suddenly quietened. Even the tape recorder, 
which had just begun playing, stopped with a squeak. Emma 
alone continued speaking, by sheer force of inertia: 

"And they've organized hot lunches in our school . . ." 

12 The implication being that he must be good if he is denounced in the 

302 ] Nikolai Arzak 

But glancing around at the silent faces, she too fell silent. 
The pause went on and on, and became embarrassing. 

"Yes, indeed," said Igor, "so much time has passed since 
then, so many events. August tenth . . ." 

"Zoya and I," shouted Paul, "Zoya and I had a quiet 
day. . . . We watched television and had the tape recorder. 
. . . The next day at work they asked me . . ." 

They all suddenly came to life: 

"And I told him: 'You'll be the first person 111 club to 
death! You son of a . . .' and I told him what I thought of 
him . . . ." 

"In Odessa some crooks got hold of the Chief of Police. 
He was in uniform of course. So you know what they did? 
They made him put on some old rags and then let him go. 
Do you see, they let him go! Then they ran after him and 
finished him off! They were tried later on." 

"Well? Well?" 

"They were convicted of robbery!" 

"Listen, listen to what happened in the writers' colony at 
Peredelkino! Kochetov 13 hired himself a bodyguard of thugs 
from outside Moscow. He gave them food and drink, of 
course. And some other writers also hired people — you 
know why? To get rid of Kochetov! 

"Well, and what happened?" 

"What happened! There was a fight, that's what happened! 
The thugs fought each other!" 

"Listen, does anybody know how many victims there 

"Not many in the Russian Republic: seven or eight hun- 
dred, maybe a thousand. A man in the Central Statistical 
Bureau told me." 

"So few? That can't be right!" 

"It is right, it is right. They broadcast the same figures. 
The foreign radio, of course." 

"What a slaughter there was! The Georgians went for the 

13 See p. xxxii of the Introduction. 


Armenians, the Armenians went for the Azerbaijanians . . ." 

"The Armenians went for the Azerbaijanians?" 

"Yes, in the High Karabakh. That's an Armenian region." 

"And what about in Central Asia? I bet there was quite 
a lot of fighting there." 

"No, there was no fighting among themselves there. They 
killed all the Russians . . ." 

"Have you read the letter from the Central Committee?" 


"No, we haven't! Tell us about it." 

"First, the Ukraine. There the Decree was taken as a 
directive. And what a mess they made of it! Teams of young 
communist activists were given blacklists; well, the word got 
around right away about the lists. You couldn't keep a thing 
like that secret. And so special teams had nothing to do; all 
those on the list decamped. So the whole thing was a fiasco. 
Not only that, but the Central Committee has tossed out 
fourteen regional-committee and two area-committee secre- 
taries for cheapening a great political idea and overdoing 


"It's absolutely true. But in the Baltic states no one was 

"What, no one killed?" 

"No, no one." 

"But that's a provocation!" 

"It certainly is! They ignored the Decree, and that's that. 
The Central Committee letter mentions the inadequacy of 
political-educational work in the Baltic states. They've also 
fired someone there." 

". . . running along the street, shouting and firing! Bursts 
of machine-gun fire at the windows! Where did he get the 
machine gun from? He teaches at the Aviation Insti- 
tute . . ." 

"We locked the door, lowered the blinds, and played 
chess . . ." 

"I said to him: 'Don't dare, think of the children!' But he 

304 ] Nikolai Arzak 

said Tm going outside!' He was grinding his teeth. Misha 
was crying ... I only just managed to talk him out of 
it . . r 

"There's an article in Izvestia by what's her name, Elena 
Kononenko. On the educational importance of the Day for 
young people. She somehow tied it up with the polytechni- 
zation and the virgin lands . . ." 

"You should have seen the cartoon in Crocodile! The guy 
is lying down . . ." 

"The only thing Zoya and I regret is that we didn't have 
any friends around . . . things would have been a bit more 
cheerful. . . ." 

It's over, it's over, it's over! These unspoken words burst 
through the anecdotes, through the nervous laughter, through 
the digs at the government. It was the first time since Public 
Murder Day that I had heard people talking about what had 
happened. Until that moment, whenever I had raised the 
subject, people had looked at me rather oddly and changed 
the conversation. Now and then I found myself thinking a 
weird thought: "Maybe I dreamed it all?" But now it's 
over! And now we're celebrating the Forty- third Anniversary 
of the Great October Socialist Revolution! 

The four of us, Svetlana, Zoya, Volodya, and I, kept silent 
while the whirlwind of impressions, reports, rumors, and 
facts went around and around, hung in the air like a brightly 
colored rainbow, and splashed the beige wallpaper with 

"Everything was peaceful and quiet on our expedition. We 
couldn't do anything — there was dense forest all around us. 
If it's him today, then it's your turn tomorrow . . ." 

"Our neighbor committed suicide at dawn. . . . He was a 
quiet old man, a waiter in the 'Prague' Restaurant . . ." 

"I couldn't sleep the whole night, I kept thinking I heard 
someone scraping . . ." 

I recalled that on the night of August 10th I had gone out 
and seen two sanitation trucks moving along the Sadovaya 
Road; they covered a broad front, and spurting out jets of 


water, kept washing and washing the roadway and side- 
walks. . . . 

Catching Svetlana's eye, I silently motioned toward the 
door. She went out, and a moment later I followed. It was 
cozy and quiet in the kitchen. 

"Well, Svetlana, do you like it?" 

"I don't understand, Tolya. At first they were all really 
very nice, but then when they began talking about that . . . 
Why are they so pleased about it?" 

"They're pleased that they're still alive, Svetlana." 

"But they all hid! They've been . . ." Svetlana broke off, 
looking for the right word. "It was terror!" 

"Terror?" I took hold of her by the shoulders. "Svetlana, 
do you realize . . . ?" 

No, she didn't. She didn't know that this one word of hers 
had answered the question which millions of bewildered 
people had been asking themselves and each other. She 
didn't know, this girl, that she was now the match for our 
great men of state — those watchful guardians of the peo- 
ples — that she was now quite up to the standard of the papers 
wisely rustling in their darkened private offices, the discreet 
and respectful words murmured by their advisers — the whole 
thing which is solemnly called Power with a capital P. She 
thought she had spoken this word to me alone, but she had 
inadvertently thrown it in the faces of huge government 
buildings, confronting the miles of black-and-white news- 
print which crisscross the country every day. She had chal- 
lenged unanimous opinions of general meetings, and all the 
diabolic clatter of tanks which carry the gaping muzzles of 
guns to ceremonial parades. 

I kissed her and said: 

"That's enough of that, Svetlana. I want to kiss you, I've 
been wanting to for a long time. Haven't you noticed? . . ." 

. . . And so, having seen Svetlana home, I return to my 
room. I go along familiar streets, along lanes which I could 
walk through blindfold. Luxurious lampshades like crino- 
lines show pink through tulle curtains. Young lovers linger 

306 ] Nikolai Arzak 

in doorways and cannot bring themselves to part. The 
stone statue of Timiryazev 14 is thoughtful, as thoughtful as 
the finger placed against his forehead. A radio is blaring 
somewhere; there is a squeal of brakes from a car somewhere; 
groups of happy people returning home from parties, like 
me, are making a lot of noise. Somewhere in their rooms, on 
their own particular floors, people sit muttering swear- words, 
poems, and declarations of love. 

This is Moscow speaking. I go along the street, along the 
quiet, cozy boulevard, feeling my notebook in my pocket and 
thinking about what I have written. I think that what I have 
written could have been written by any other man of my 
generation or of my destiny, who loves this damned, this 
beautiful country just as much as I do. I have judged it and 
its people; I have judged myself both more severely and less 
severely than I should have done. But who will reproach 
me for that? 

I go along and say to myself: "This is your world, your 
life, and you are a cell, a particle of it. You should not allow 
yourself to be intimidated. You should answer for yourself, 
and you thereby answer for others/' And the endless streets 
and squares, embankments and trees, and the dreamy steam- 
ships of houses, sailing as a gigantic convoy into obscurity, 
answer me with a low hum of unconscious assent and sur- 
prised approval. 

This is Moscow speaking. 

14 A Russian botanist ( 1843-1920), much honored in the Soviet Union. 



Boris Pasternak, "Bezlyubye," Volya Truda, Nos. 60 and 62, Novem- 
ber 26 and 28, 1918. 
Evgeni Zamyatin, "Revolyutsya, literatura i entropia," Litsa, Izd. 

imeni Chekhova, New York, 1955. 
Victor Shklovsky, "Literatura i kinematograf,' , I. Ladyzhnikov, Ber- 
lin, 1923. 
Sergei Esenin, "Rus Sovyietskaya," Sergei Esenin, Sochineniya, Volume 

2, Moscow, 1956. 
Konstantin Paustovsky, from Vremya bolshikh ozhidanii, Sovyetsky 

Pisatel, Moscow, 1960. 
Isaac Babel, "Doroga," 30 dnei, No. 3, March 1832. 
Alexander Grin, "Sozdanie Aspera," Ogon i voda, rasskazy, Feder- 

atsia, Moscow, 1930. 
Boris Pasternak, "M.Ts.," Stikhotvoreniya v odnom tome, Izd. Pisatelei 

v Leningrade, 1933. 
Boris Pilnyak, "Krasnoye derevo," Opalnye Povesti, ed. Vera Alex- 

androva, Izd. imeni Chekhova, New York, 1955. 
Mikhail Zoshchenko, "Pered voskhodom solntsa," Oktyabr, 8 and 9, 

Moscow, 1943. 
Vladimir Polyakov, "Pozharnik Prokhorchuk" (rasskaz v rasskaze), 

Smeyatsya pravo ne greshno, Izd. Isskustvo, Moscow, 1953. 
Lev Kassil, from "Dorogie moi malchiki," Izbrannye Povesti, Sovyetsky 

Pisatel, Moscow, 1948. 
Julia Neiman, "1941," Literaturnaya Moskva, Volume 2, Moscow, 

Nikolai Chukovsky, "Brodyaga," Literaturnaya Moskva, Volume 2, 

Moscow, 1956. 
Ivan Kharabarov, "Nekhozhenoi tropoi," Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, 

August 2, 1959. 
Yuri Kazakov, "Otshchepenets," Oktyabr, July 1959. 
Vladimir Tendryakov, "Troika, semyorka, tuz," Novy Mir, No. 3, 1960. 
Ilya Ehrenburg, "Lyudi, gody i zhizn," Novy Mir, No. 1, January, 



Evgeni Evtushenko, "Babi Yar," Literaturnaya Gazeta, September 

19, 1961. 
Nikolai Arzak, "Govorit Moskva," unpublished in Russian. Copyright 
Kultura, Institut Litteraire Maisons-Laffitte, Seine-et-Oise, France. 

Date Due 

Dafe Due 

5yo__ Rofornad 

3 1262 00054 1432